RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL- In 2016, former President Barack Obama designated 1.35 million acres of land in Southeast Utah and 300,000 acres in Southern Nevada as two new national monuments. This move was one the largest acts of conservation Obama accomplished during his presidency.
This all is about to change.
Last month, President Donald Trump’s administration issued a directive to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent. These lands encompass indigenous territories of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Pueblo people, who believe they are sacred areas that should be protected for their use and for the use of future generations. Additionally, Trump has called for reducing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, by approximately half.
In Nevada, Trump administration officials have suggested removing the national monument designation from Gold Butte National Monument, which was created at the same time as Bears Ears. The Gold Butte National Monument, located two-and-a-half hours northeast of Las Vegas, houses ancient petroglyphs, canyons and desert wildlife including bighorn sheep and desert tortoises. Additionally, Gold Butte National Monument includes lands sacred to the Moapa Paiute Tribe of Nevada.
The Trump administration’s slashing of national monument acreage represents the largest decrease in public land since the creation of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gave presidents the authority to protect federal lands and waters. Trump’s proclamations transform these important national preserves into mere echoes of their original size and majesty. Bears Ears has shrunk from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante has been reduced from nearly 1.9 million acres to 997,490 acres.
The push to reduce Gold Butte National Monument, which Interior Secretary Zinke has suggested, largely has come from grazing advocates and those wanting no restrictions on use of the land or access to potential water and mineral rights in the area. In a Dec. 5, 2017 article in the Las Vegas Sun, author Adam Candee noted that Zinke’s recommendation doesn’t specify how much land should be removed from the monument, but there should be “prioritization” based on the various uses of the land such as public access, infrastructure upgrades, repair, maintenance, hunting and fishing, as well as tribal cultural and traditional uses, which include grazing.
When Zinke visited Gold Butte in July, he canceled planned meetings with advocates of Gold Butte and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who is a longtime supporter of Gold Butte. Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.), however, has applauded Zinke’s proposed shrinkage of Gold Butte monument because it allows the Virgin Valley Water District to regain water rights lost when the monument was created.
Some have argued that President Trump doesn’t have the authority to make these changes. In 1938, the U.S. attorney general’s office wrote a formal opinion stating the Antiquities Act gave president’s the ability to grant monuments but did not give them the right to dissolve or remove one. Obviously, this is an issue the courts ultimately will decide.
In creating Bears Ears and Gold Butte, President Obama said he took the action in order “to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.” It was the right decision then and remains the right decision today.
The reduction in size of Gold Butte, as well as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, is purely and simply a land grab initiated by a handful of powerful private economic interests who want to exploit, and possibly damage, fragile areas which are ancestral territories of native people.
If you want to contact the Trump administration about either of these monuments you can send letters here:
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240