Bears Ears. You’ve all heard of it by now, right? The Bears Ears are a pair of mesas located in San Juan County in southeastern Utah. They are were protected as part of and the namesake of the Bears Ears National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service.
On December 4th, 2017, Donald Trump signed Proclamation 9558, an executive order to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument—home to ancient cliff dwellings, Native American cultural sites, and iconic wildlife—by 85 percent. And the proclamation does not stop with Bears Ears, but also includes a number of other national monuments including the Moki Steps, Native American ceremonial sites, tools and projectile points, remains of single-family dwellings, granaries, kivas, towers, large villages, rock shelters, caves, and a prehistoric road system, as well as petroglyphs, pictographs, and recent rock art left by the Ute, Navajo, and Paiute peoples. It also identifies other types of historic objects, such as remnants of Native American sheep-herding and farming operations and early engineering by pioneers and settlers, including smoothed sections of rock, dugways, historic cabins, corrals, trails, and inscriptions carved into rock, and the Hole-in-the-Rock and Outlaw Trails.
Why would he do that? Because he wants to open that land to destructive coal mining, as well as oil and gas drilling. It’s all about money, folks. Destroy the land to put greenbacks in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry barons.
The lands of southeastern Utah have been home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It’s a majestic region of sandstone canyons, desert mesas, forested highlands, and red rock formations. One area in particular, named for twin buttes that resemble the ears of a bear, contains ancient cliff dwellings, rock art, and more than 100,000 other archaeological, cultural, and spiritual sites. They attest to varied and diverse American civilizations that existed long before the first Europeans arrived.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the authority to designate national monuments. It does not empower them to slice up monuments designated by others. A lawsuit has been filed by a conservation group, Earthjustice. The suit claims that because the president’s authority to create national monuments is delegated by Congress under the Antiquities Act, monument proclamations carry the force of law and cannot be reversed by later presidents. Therefore, Trump lacks the authority to gut a national monument that belongs to all Americans. Earthjustice represents a coalition of conservation groups in the suit: The Wilderness Society, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Now, you might expect that Utah lawmakers would be incensed over this assault on their state, yes? Well, think again. Mitt Romney applauds Trump’s decision and in an interview on Monday said that he thinks the Antiquities Act, the federal law that grants presidential authority to designate such monuments, needs significant revisions, voicing support of a new law to require any large monuments over a certain acreage to first be approved by state legislatures.
But here is the one that galls me the most, and literally had me growling as I researched for this post. Mike Noel is a member of the Utah House of Representatives. Mr. Noel liked Trump’s proclamation so much that he has written a proposal to rename the 631-mile-long Utah National Parks Highway. And just what would Mr. Noel wish to name the highway? The “Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway”. Noel said Trump wasn’t getting enough credit for his efforts. Passing this proposal, Noel said, was a chance to give it to him. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Then he went on to say …
“I think he’s done a tremendous amount, and I think with seven more years we can turn this country around. I think it’s a small price to pay to name a highway after him when he does in fact protect public lands.”
If we have another seven years of Trump, I can guarantee that I will either be a) residing in another country, b) in prison for murder, or c) dead.
The aforementioned lawsuit by Earthjustice is not the only one; in fact there are currently five lawsuits on the dockets:
- Hopi Tribe et al v. Trump et al• Filed: Federal district court in D.C.• Plaintiffs: Five American Indian tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni).• Defendants: President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, acting Bureau of Land Management Director Brian Steed, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke.• Argument: Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president does not have the legal authority to revoke or modify a monument — only to designate one. Additionally, the tribes say the 1.35 million acres set aside by President Barack Obama holds spiritual significance and contains cultural artifacts that deserve protection at the threat of looting, grave-robbing, vandalism and development. • Seeking: Injunctive relief “requiring President Trump to rescind his proclamation, or prohibiting him from enforcing or implementing it in any way.”
- Utah Dine Bikeyah et al v. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: A broad coalition representing American Indian tribes, recreation interests and paleontologists (Utah Dine Bikeyah, Patagonia Works, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, Conservation Lands Foundation, Access Fund, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, National Trust for Historic Preservation). • Defendants: Trump, Zinke, Steed, Perdue, Tooke. • Argument: Reducing the 1.35 million-acre monument would threaten hundreds of historical rock art panels, artifacts, pueblos and kivas. For its part, Patagonia insists the cuts would hurt the company financially by taking away recreation areas that provide “some of the best rock climbing in North America” used by its customers. Development in the area, adds Friends of Cedar Mesa, would mean “direct and immediate harm” to the paleontological hot spots within the monument’s boundaries, and oil and gas drilling would “result in the destruction and degradation” of the ecosystem. • Seeking: An order requiring Trump to restore the original monument and bar his administration from acting on the reconfigured designations.
- Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. et al v. Donald J. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: 11 conservation groups (The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance). • Defendants: Trump, Zinke, Steed, Perdue, Tooke. • Argument: Trimming the monument would threaten “irreplaceable” archaeological artifacts and damage paleontology sites. • Seeking: Injunctive relief to block mining and oil and gas drilling on the land.
- The Wilderness Society et al v. Donald J. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: 10 environmental groups (The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity). • Defendants: Trump, Zinke, Steed. • Argument: The lawsuit alleges Trump is stripping protection for land that would leave “remarkable fossil, cultural, scenic and geological treasures exposed to immediate and ongoing harm.” That includes the Kaiparowits Plateau, which holds abundant coal deposits and is a paleontological treasure trove. • Seeking: Injunctive relief to stop Trump’s proclamations from taking effect so that no permits are issued for oil and gas leasing or coal and mineral mining.
- Grand Staircase Escalante Partners et al v. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Conservation Lands Foundation. • Defendants: Trump, Zinke. • Argument: Removing protection from nearly 900,000 acres in the monument would threaten “sensitive resources located there,” including plant and bee species, archaeological artifacts and geological formations. The president’s actions were illegal. • Seeking: An injunction to stop Trump and Zinke from “recognizing, enforcing or otherwise carrying out” the downsized designations.
Trump must be thrilled, for lawsuits have defined most of his adult life!
Note that not one of these lawsuits is asking for money, they are simply asking that Trump, Zinke, et al, leave our land alone.
The land, its beauty, once destroyed can never be replaced. Coal mining? The market for coal is ever-shrinking and will never again be a relevant factor, since renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are cleaner and more economical. Drilling for oil and gas? Sorry, but I cannot rationalize corporate profits over nature. It isn’t just a matter of the beauty of the land, nor even the cultural and archeological sites. But we do not know what wildlife may be affected and in what way. We do not know what damage may be caused to water tables by the destruction of these lands. In the grand scheme of things, when we take the time to consider the future of our planet, putting profit over nature is about the stupidest move we could make. There is more to life than money, as most of us know.