A closer look

Amid controversy, Trump administration finalizes plans to make two national monuments available for development

TaLeah Van Sistine

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
November 17, 2021

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Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah are now subject to drilling, mining and grazing after the Interior Department finalized the plans on Feb. 6.

The Bears Ears Education Center website describes the national monument as “the first national monument ever created at the request of a coalition of Native American tribes” and “one of the most archeological areas on Earth.”

Utah.com also illustrates Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as “A … museum of sedimentary erosion that walks you down through a 200-million-year-old staircase of animals …, minerals and vegetables.”

But now, according to The Washington Post, the Trump administration hopes to develop these lands — which harbor “significant amounts” of oil, gas and coal. 

Oct. 1 would be the earliest date the government could approve new mining claims or implement any development on the grounds of these national monuments. However, there is still controversy surrounding these plans. 

In 1996, President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and in 2016, President Barack Obama created Bears Ears and officially recognized the land as sacred to certain tribes.

Yet, on April 26, 2017, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13792, which requested for the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review designations of national monuments made since 1996. 

“I’m doing the right thing,” Trump said during his announcement of the executive order. “I’m signing an executive order to give that power back to the states and back to the people.”

An article by National Geographic outlined a map of the 26 national monuments Zinke reviewed after Executive Order 13792 was implemented. 

At the conclusion of Zinke’s process, it was only Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments that were chosen to reduce in size: Bears Ears by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 46%.

According to The Washington Post, the officials from the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service, who manage the lands, said “the new plans balance the region’s economic interests against the need to safeguard natural and cultural wonders.”

Despite their remarks, an article from Sierra, the Sierra Club’s national magazine — an environmental club founded by John Muir who was considered the “Father of the National Parks” — said the Trump administration is “trying to destroy” these monuments.

David Gessner, who wrote the article featured in the magazine, recalled something Theodore Roosevelt said during a speech he gave at the Grand Canyon’s edge: “Leave it as it is.”

Indeed, some people remain concerned about the future of national monuments and parks under the Trump administration. It is true, however, that Trump signed a land conservation bill on March 12, 2019 and created five new national monuments.

St. Francis Dam in Los Angeles, Medgar Evers’ house in Jackson, Miss. and Jurassic National Monument in Utah are some of the places that became protected by the bill.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s acting manager, Harry Barber, said in an interview with The Guardian that protections would still remain in place, even though the lands were no longer within the monument. 

“It’s not a free-for-all,” Barber said. “That seems to be what I hear a lot, people feeling like now anybody can go out and do anything they want to do on these lands. But, they need to realize that we still have our rules and policies.”

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected].