What are the Trump administration’s new plans for Utah monuments?

Tribal nations and conservation groups hope to dismantle the policies in court.


Released in February, the Trump administration’s final management plans for Utah’s shrunken Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments caused a predictable amount of commotion. While monument foes like Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, R, praised the plans, environmental groups described them as a giveaway to oil, gas and mining.

Here’s what those plans do and do not contain:

Fewer protections

The plans apply only to the lands within the reduced monuments, not to the combined 2 million acres that President Donald Trump cut from them by executive fiat in 2017. For both monuments, the administration picked, out of a handful of alternatives, the plans that offer low protections.

Within both monuments’ diminished boundaries, the plans open the door to more grazing as well as to chaining, in which bulldozers drag chains to uproot vegetation. Rights of way for development will be easier to introduce, and there are fewer restrictions on target shooting. Land outside the current boundaries will be managed by standard Bureau of Land Management regulations – which the Trump administration has slashed for three years.

A popular Ancestral Puebloan site in the Greater Bears Ears area in southeastern Utah.

Nothing that specifically incentivizes energy development

Oil, gas and mine leases remain banned with the monuments, but are now available in the excluded lands. Following the 2017 executive order, a number of new hardrock mining claims for uranium and other minerals appeared. But oil and uranium prices are currently low, so there’s little economic incentive to develop now. That could change: The president has talked of implementing a uranium quota to encourage domestic mining.

Even less input from tribes

Tribal members, who make up a majority of the county where Bears Ears is located, have long pushed for greater protection for the site, which is profoundly important to Southwestern tribes. Five of them — the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation and Zuni Tribe — formed a coalition that informed the Obama administration’s monument creation.

Tribal representatives say they have been cut out of the Trump administration’s planning for the reduced Bears Ears, however. A recent meeting of the committee that makes management recommendations to the BLM did not have a single Indigenous representative present, local radio station KUER reported. “We’re seeing no meaningful engagement of the tribes by the agencies,” said Natalie Landreth, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which represents the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute tribes in a lawsuit.

No plan to handle Bears Ears’ growing popularity

The plan acknowledges a tourism spike for Bears Ears. For the still-protected monument lands, local advocates describe a lack of basic infrastructure to direct visitors, or ranger stations to educate them — even signs to tell them where they are, and not to disturb culturally important sites. Instead, the management plan recommends visitor “self-regulation.” “Bears Ears is being run by Google maps right now,” said Josh Ewing, director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, the nonprofit that — in the absence of federal infrastructure — runs the only visitor center.

The plan claims to maintain cultural resource protections, but it’s not clear the administration even knows what it is claiming to protect. An environmental impact statement from last summer admits that only 8% of the BLM-administered lands in the Shash Jáa unit — one of the two units that make up the reduced monument — have been surveyed for cultural resources. Within this small slice, an archaeological site was found every 8 acres, on average.

Federal presence on the ground is already minimal, and the plan wouldn’t add more right away. The agencies say they intend to develop recreation guidelines, but the plans do not specify when. And even if the plans were in place today, they would apply to the 1.1 million acres cut from the original monument.

Grand Staircase-Escalante’s boundaries aren’t well-marked, and the plan won’t improve that

Grand Staircase has been a monument for more than two decades. Now, with the size reductions, grazing and mineral development are allowed on lands that had been off-limits since 1996. Within the monument, and in addition to the possible chaining and under-regulated recreation, casual fossil collection is now permitted in one of the country’s richest paleontological areas. Uncertainty about the new boundaries encourages abuse: Stephen Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a local nonprofit, said the complete lack of signage causes “so much confusion” between the monument’s boundaries and the excluded lands. Local members of his group report off-road trails spreading into illegal areas.

No free pass on the legal front for the Trump administration

Before 2017, the Antiquities Act had never been used except as a one-way use of executive branch power to designate national monuments. By claiming that the act works both ways — to both create and reduce monuments — Trump opened up a legal question. Several lawsuits, including Landreth’s, have been consolidated into one legal challenge, which argues that Trump unlawfully stripped monument status from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.

Should the courts side with the administration, the Utah monuments would remain their reduced size, and the entire substance of the Antiquities Act would be called into question. If, however, the courts rule that the shrinkage was illegal, the original boundaries would be restored.

Nick Bowlin is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
    -The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region- The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful, complex, diverse,...
    Position will remain open until January 31, 2021 Join Our Team! The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit land trust organization dedicated to...
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...