President Trump traveled to Utah today to announce a historical reduction of federally protected lands in Utah. Two proclamations were signed, reducing and restructuring both Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.
The process began earlier this year with an executive order to review more than two dozen of the larger national monuments created within the last 20 years. Ryan Zinke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, delivered a report this past August suggesting that six boundaries should be changed, among these were Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears.
Southern Utah University’s public lands expert Dr. Briget Eastep explains the changes starting with the Antiquities Act.
“The 1906 Antiquities Act has been used by 16 out of 19 of the past presidents to protect federal lands with ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.’”
Designated by President Clinton in 1996, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument encompasses 1.9 million acres. The new proclamation will create three monuments with just over 1 million acres. Bears Ears, designated in 2016 by President Obama with 1.35 million acres, will now be divided into two monuments with about 228,000 acres.
“It is not the first time monuments have been altered by Presidents, and I believe is a great show of our democracy,” said Eastep. “As in the past, the judicial branch will now get involved through litigation. Congress also has the right to change monument boundaries, abolish monuments, or designate them as national parks, but has not weighed in on Bears Ears or the Grand Staircase.”
“What’s at stake is how these lands will be used. As monuments, preservation and protection are the priority. Without monument designation, public lands, outside of National Parks, balance multiple uses. This is a national debate between conservation, utilization, and preservation of some of the most remote and wild lands in our nation. The proclamation will change the management of these areas, which will lead to new planning processes and opportunities for public input. The optimistic side of me hopes this will lead to a healthy dialogue to determine how these lands will be protected and utilized.”
Dr. Eastep concludes with the hope that opposing groups can step back and listen to each other.
“They may find they have more in common than they believe and can use their differences to find creative solutions to meet the many demands on limited resources. This is an opportunity for citizens to get involved by tracking and participating in the future planning of these monuments and lands.”
Starting out as a Philmont ranger in New Mexico, Dr. Eastep’s work focuses on outdoor education, leadership and partnerships within parks, recreation and tourism. Learn more about Dr. Eastep and her work on SUU’s Expert Directory.