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Southern Utah News Front Page: December 7, 2017
President Trump signed proclamations Monday to shrink two national monuments in Utah
By Mark Havnes, Special to the SUN
President Donald Trump came to Utah on Monday and with the stroke of a pen did what many feared might happen and many others had been fighting for the past 20 years. He reduced the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and the neighboring Bears Ears national monuments.
The president, by signing a pair of proclamations during a ceremony at the Utah Capitol building, reduced the size of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase by 800,000 acres and the recently created 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears by 1.1 million acres. The order also fractured the Grand Staircase into three new units and split the Bears Ears into two.
In his remarks, the president said it is time the control of the monuments be taken away from bureaucrats in Washington and returned to the people of Utah.
“Some think resources should be controlled by Washington,” said Trump. “Guess what, they’re wrong. You [Utahns] know how best to preserve the land and that should not be replaced by the whims of others who don’t care for the land.”
Trump said he made the decision on recommendations from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and after consulting with Utah’s GOP delegation and calling “all my friends in Utah.”
The president’s actions were the largest restructuring of monuments ever in the country and were automatically met with lawsuits that contend he does not have the right to reduce or rescind a monument. Both monuments were created under provisions of the Antiquities Act that since 1906 has been used by presidents to set aside tracts of land and sea for the betterment of the people.
The Grand Staircase, spread over Kane and Garfield counties, was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and the Bears Ears, in San Juan County, by President Barrack Obama last year in the waning days of his presidency.
Trump said that past administrations have abused the century-old law that specifies only the smallest parcels of public land be set aside to protect cultural, historical and scientific resources. He said his executive orders will reverse a “tragic federal over reach” and relax regulations on grazing, mining, timber and recreational uses of the land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
“Public lands are once again for public use,” Trump said.
Rep. Chris Stewart, said on Tuesday, he is proposing a bill in Congress to form a 100,000-acre Escalante Canyon National Park in one of the Grand Staircase units that would include only the most scenic values. He said much of the land now protected by the vast monument doesn’t warrant the protection offered by a special designation.
The president’s modifications of both monuments were swiftly condemned by environmental groups and a coalition of five American Indian tribes that encouraged President Obama to create the Bears Ears. The tribes filed a lawsuit late Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The environmental group, Guardians of the Earth, also filed a similar suit on behalf of eight other conservation groups.
In the past, many business owners in the gateway communities to the Grand Staircase have sided with environmentalists in the dispute claiming that shrinking the boundaries would stifle economic vitality that tourism has brought to the area.
Last May, when Zinke toured the monuments with Utah politicians, he was met by nearly 400 protesters in Kanab claiming the move could create economic stagnation. The secretary ignored their pleas for a meeting.
Kanab resident Noel Poe, president of the board of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, which raises funds and musters volunteers for monument projects, said Tuesday that his group has also filed suit in Washington against Trump and Zinke with the Conservation Lands Foundation and Society of Vertebrate Paleontology joining the action.
Poe said the suit claims the president lacks authority to shrink monuments created by the Antiquities Act and that similar concerns are shared by many attorneys and legal scholars.
He said his group, while not surprised by Trump’s action, were still disappointed. Of particular concern was a strip now excluded from the monument along its southern boundary that is noted for its archaeological resources. The monument was created in one of America’s last undeveloped wild places to foster a frontier experience.
“I admit the monument is big,” Poe said, “but one of the reasons the Grand Staircase was created was to establish an extensive wild landscape that will be lost by shrinking the monument.”
He said his group currently has 500 members and about 2,900 supporters and that in the past few days has seen an increase in interest because of Trump.
Dirk Clayson, chairman of the Kane County Commission, said he and others are “thrilled” with the direction of things now that Trump has made a decision.
“This gives us predictability and stability,” Clayson said, speaking of the often quarrelsome disagreements the county has with federal government over management issues.
One of the major goals the county now anticipates can be resolved concern road issues and broader access to areas by public to scenic areas.
He says that grazing issues could also be more easily reconciled without the perpetual fight by the county over myriad environmental impact statements put forth by the BLM.
“We’re excited about opening the land back up to the public,” he said.