Trump slashes national monuments

Ancient cultures inhabited the Bears Ears National Monument.
Ancient cultures inhabited the Bears Ears National Monument.
Image: Stock photo.
President Donald Trump's Dec. 4 decision to significantly reduce two national monuments has brought into focus central questions underlying how the U.S. government decides which land to protect:

    To be historically significant, must a place have been the scene of a war or a discovery? Or can it simply hold the artifacts of ancient people who wandered Earth before us? Must it also be breathtakingly beautiful? And is it more important to protect land or to open it for commercial purposes?
    Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments are beautiful and historically significant, but Trump announced this week that he would shrink the acreage under federal protection at both Utah destinations. In so doing, the president remarked that he was giving locals a voice in use of the property. He also reversed the decisions of two predecessors: presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
    Obama had reserved approximately 1.35 million acres of federal lands at Bears Ears National Monument to protect objects of historic and scientific interest. Trump’s modification slashes more than 1.15 million of those acres from protection, leaving Bears Ears with 201,876 acres of protected land. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, established by Clinton, was approximately 1.9 million acres and will be reduced to about 1 million acres.
     The Bears Ears Commission of Tribes, a group of five tribes brought together to ensure that the management of the Bears Ears reflects tribal expertise, immediately released a statement expressing indignation. “Despite multiple requests from tribal leaders to meet with him on Bears Ears, President Trump made up his mind and acted without meeting with the tribes whose cultures, lands and history the monument is intended to protect,” the group's website said.
     Both properties have been described as sacred and significant. Here’s why:
  1. Bears Ears was named for two prominent buttes in southeastern Utah. Obama described them as “rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and ... visible from every direction.” 
  2. Bears Ears was inhabited thousands of years ago. Evidence of Paleoindian occupation dates to 11,000 B.C. The land contains more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites. Some of the sites are easy to see -- for example, the cliff dwellings. Others are not, according to the Bears Ears Coalition. It says "the mesa tops are covered with great houses, ancient roads, underground pit houses, villages, and shrines. To the untrained eye, these archaeological features can sometimes be hard to recognize, but their importance to science, as well as tribal descendants is immense.”
  3. Known for its diverse geology, Grand Staircase-Escalante is formed of an extensive network of slot canyons, along with sandstone cliffs, natural arches and bridges and red rocks. It was home to the Anasazi Indians, according to a park website. Remains are scattered throughout the area.
  4. Before it was modified by Trump, Grand Staircase-Escalante was described by the U.S. Interior Department as "the largest national monument in the United States," and "the last place in the continental United States to be mapped." 



     National monuments could lose designation

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