Pew: Utah Monuments Should Remain as Designated

President’s decision to reduce size of protected areas disregards popular support


WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts expressed deep disappointment today in the decision by President Donald Trump to significantly scale back the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

Tom Wathen, a vice-president at The Pew Charitable Trusts responsible for conservation projects in the United States, issued the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed in the announcement today that President Trump will drastically reduce the size of the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, thereby eliminating vital protection for the important cultural and historic artifacts and special natural features in these two iconic places.

“Both of these national monuments, as well as others that were under review by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have broad public backing, as evidenced by the large turnout of people supporting the monuments at public hearings and by the nearly 3 million comments that citizens submitted to the administration earlier this year, urging no changes to the monuments’ boundaries or the comprehensive protection now in place.

“Just last month, some 600 chambers of commerce and businesses, including Utah’s Escalante and Boulder Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter urging the administration to leave the two national monuments as they are and saying that shrinking or altering the management of the monuments would hurt local economies.

“The Bears Ears landscape is sacred to the  five tribes that joined together to ask for its protection and whose members use it today for traditional purposes, including hunting, fishing, and wood gathering. More than 100,000 archaeological sites within the Bears Ears National Monument require conservation, including rock art dating back at least 5,000 years as well as cliff dwellings and other remnants of past cultures that have existed in the region for millennia. Before the monument was designated, those sites had seen a rise in incidents of looting and grave robbing and the vandalism of a 1,000-year-old petroglyph. To reduce this national treasure by more than 80 percent by breaking it up into an archipelago of smaller, isolated sites ignores the importance of preserving the entire landscape.

“The Kaiparowits Plateau in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been called ‘the Shangri-La of dinosaurs’ for the many skeletons of these enormous creatures that have been unearthed, including 21 previously unknown species. The remains of the oldest, an 81 million-year-old tyrannosaurus—Lythronax argestes—were recovered from the plateau just four years ago. Reducing this monument’s boundaries by more than 40 percent to allow for development will do serious harm not only to scientific exploration but also to the livelihood of the local community, which has grown and thrived since the monument was designated in the red rock countryside of southern Utah more than 20 years ago.

“Safeguarding large-scale landscapes under the Antiquities Act began in 1908, just two years after it became law, when President Theodore Roosevelt conserved the 800,000-plus-acre Grand Canyon National Monument, which Congress designated as a national park in 1919. So the argument that recent national monuments are too large and are out of step with the history of the Antiquities Act has  no merit. In fact, the Supreme Court in 1920 upheld the Antiquities Act designation of the Grand Canyon as a national monument precisely because of its vast size as a unique geological feature. Other historic examples of protecting large landscapes under the Antiquities Act include Alaska’s million-plus-acre Katmai, named a national monument by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918, and the 1.38 million-acre Glacier Bay, also in Alaska, designated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925.

“The Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful tools a president can use to add to the nation’s conservation, historic, cultural, and scientific legacy, but the act does not provide the president with the explicit power to rescind or significantly reduce the size or protections described in a national monument’s original proclamation. And Congress has never voted to give that power to the president.

“We urge President Trump to reconsider this decision, leave the Utah monuments as they were designated, and keep all of America’s national monuments intact.”

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