US officials have announced plans to allow increased mining on land that once belonged to two national monuments Donald Trump shrank, and to sell off some of the land despite pledges not to do so.
The two monuments, now significantly smaller in size, are both in Utah. The draft management plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument includes a 98-page minerals report that outlines deposits of coal, oil and gas, tar sands and other minerals under the whole of the monument’s original 1.9m acres.
It also targets 1,600 acres for selling to neighboring property owners, although the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, said on his second day on the job: “You can hear it from my lips: we will not sell off public lands.”
The Bears Ears national monument plan allows for mineral development in lands removed from monument status.
It is a goal of the administration to open public lands to increased industrial development. The plans follow Trump’s December 2017 executive order shrinking both monuments by a combined 2m acres, a move that prompted tribal and environmental groups and major outdoor brands to file lawsuits against the administration questioning the legality of the reduction.
Many of those groups now claim the administration is jumping the gun with these plans while five consolidated suits are pending in the US district court in Washington DC, and point to a request from 16 senators to hold off planning processes for these areas until those challenges are resolved.
“The Grand Staircase plan alone has already cost American taxpayers $1,160,004,” said Nicole Croft, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, referring to a government estimate. “That’s money desperately needed to improve hiking trails, hunting grounds and law enforcement. The Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument already has a plan that should remain in place, continuing to protect the priceless antiquities within its borders, at least until a court rules on the legality of the Trump reduction.”
The public has until 15 November to submit comments on the plans, and officials insist they want to hear from citizens.
Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated as a national monument in 1996 by the Clinton administration. Bears Ears was designated as a national monument by the Obama administration in 2016 in a move to protect archaeological, cultural, and natural resources in the region.
“It’s time that native voices, as the original peoples of the Bears Ears region, are heard and the sovereign rights of Native Nations to protect their sacred places are recognized,” said Honor Keeler, assistant director of the not-for-profit organization Utah Diné Bikéyah. “The Bears Ears region is a sacred place that cannot be chopped up into pieces, for it is a sacred place in its entirety that has been used for thousands of years by the indigenous peoples of these lands.”
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