HECHO condemns yesterday's announcement by President Trump that he intends to roll back protections of more public lands than ever before in our history by reducing Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half.
As HECHO’s Board Member Rebecca Chavez-Houck, state Representative from Utah, wrote in the Deseret News: “Our public lands, especially our national monuments, do not just make up the physical landscape of our country. They are vital pillars of our culture and the backdrop to our history — some of which we are still uncovering — especially the sites and stories that have been discounted in the past because of their great significance to underrepresented communities, like Latinos. Many of the most recent national monument designations, including Bears Ears, have been created to safeguard sites that are more inclusive and representative of our nation’s diverse history.”
This decision threatens critical Native American cultural artifacts and sacred lands. “These are monuments that embody America and our Latino and Native American history. An attack on even one national monument is an attack on them all,” says Camilla Simon, HECHO’s Executive Director. “Our public lands belong to every American; they are our common heritage to be handed down from generation to generation for all Americans and visitors to enjoy.”
Beyond being a cultural treasure, these are lands that generate millions of visitors nationally and internationally, and are integral to the tourist economy of many counties, regions, and cities. HECHO is very concerned for local communities whose monuments are economic engines.
Today’s action is intended to open more public lands to coal and uranium mining and oil and gas drilling at a time when roughly 14 million acres of land under oil and gas leases sit idle and coal leases are going for cents on the dollar. “We are especially concerned that monuments currently open for hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoor recreation are at risk of being closed or overrun by strip mines and oil fields,” said Simon.
It is likely that this decision will result in legal action. There is significant agreement among legal experts that the Antiquities Act, which grants a president the authority to establish a national monument, does not grant the president the authority to eliminate or significantly alter a national park or national monument.