Conservation is not a conservative principle anymore. Today President Trump signed presidential proclamations that will take the unprecedented step of dramatically shrinking two national monuments in Utah. The moves are largely seen as favors to Senator Orin Hatch, a frequent Trump apologist. This part of the American West frequently suffers from antiquities looting on the part of local residents, and the designation of these monuments was an important step to reduce the destruction and looting of these sites. A step that the Trump administration now is attempting to undo.
The reductions in these national monuments are a seldom-used step, one few other presidents have considered since the Antiquities Act was created in 1906. The New York Times reported that reductions have occurred before—Woodrow Wilson reduced the size of Mount Olympus, and Franklin Roosevelt reduced the size of the Grand Canyon monument.
Trump’s attempted reduction in size is not yet known, and will have to survive likely legal challenges, but mark an unfortunate step away from preservation of natural and cultural heritage. Instead the short-sighted move seems to prioritize development, mineral extraction, and ranching. Tribal groups are likely to be impacted most directly, and as a result some have already announced plans to challenge the reduction in court. The Navajo Nation in a statement declared:
The decision to reduce the size of the [Bears Ears] Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bear Ears . . . . The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.
- Eleanor Cummins, Trump’s Cuts to National Monuments Hurt Native Americans Most, Slate, Dec. 4, 2017.
- Josh Dawsey & Juliet Eilperin, Trump Shrinks Two Huge National Monuments in Utah, Drawing Praise and Protests, Washington Post, Dec. 42–500, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-scales-back-two-huge-national-monuments-in-utah-drawing-praise-and-protests/2017/12/04/758c85c6-d908-11e7-b1a8-62589434a581_story.html.
- Print et al., Legal scholars dispute whether monuments are permanent (Aug. 2–2017), http://www.hcn.org/issues/49.14/monuments-legal-scholars-dispute-whether-national-monuments-are-permanent.
- Julie Turkewitz, Trump Slashes Size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Monuments, The New York Times, Dec. 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/us/trump-bears-ears.html.
- NPS Archeology Program: Antiquities Act Centennial, https://www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/antiquities/monumentslist.htm.
- WATCH: Trump scales back Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, PBS NewsHour (Dec. 4–2017), https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/watch-live-trump-expected-to-scale-back-bears-ears-grand-staircase-escalante-national-monuments.
- With Monument Reductions, Trump Enflames Century-Old Debate, Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 4–2017.