Bears Ears Falls Victim to Trump’s Attack on Monuments

After an expedited review of the monument, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a big step toward removing its federal protection.
Credit: Tim Peterson

After an expedited review of the monument, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a big step toward removing its federal protection.

The Trump administration’s unabashed assault on our national monuments has claimed its first victim: Bears Ears National Monument, which President Obama established less than a month before leaving office and is the first-ever monument created in partnership with Native Americans. Today U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that Trump shrink the borders of Bears Ears and reevaluate its management.

The decision comes after a late-April executive order instructed Zinke to review 27 national monuments recently created under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law allowing a president to set aside lands for federal protection. Bears Ears was the only monument of that group targeted with an expedited review process, however—the Interior Department took public comments on the status of Bears Ears for just 15 days.

This strikes at a core American value—our commitment to set aside special places that preserve our heritage, enrich our lives, and honor the people who forged our history,” NRDC president Rhea Suh said. “It’s an affront to the tribes who forged an historic proposal to comanage these sacred areas. And it sends a chilling signal about the Trump administration’s intent to hand over irreplaceable American landscapes to mining and fossil fuel interests. And this is just the beginning of the Trump administration’s assault on our national monuments.”

Bears Ears National Monument protects a vast swath of red-rock country in southeastern Utah, a striking landscape of plateaus, canyons, and rivers with iconic twin buttes reminiscent of a bear’s ears. The land, which is sacred to the many Native American tribes who fought for its national monument status, is home to more than 100,000 archaeological sites that have been plagued by looting, vandalism, and recreational vehicle use. If Trump unravels federal safeguards for the area, the administration opens Bears Ears to drilling, mining, and other industrial activities that would permanently wipe out that cultural history and destroy the natural beauty and integrity of the region. The other national monuments currently under review face a similar threat if Zinke decides to strip their protections as well. Already, more than one million Americans have spoken out, insisting that Bears Ears and other national monuments stay protected.

“President Trump doesn’t have the legal authority to abolish monument protections," said Suh. "We’ll fight any attempt to do so—in the court of public opinion and in our courts of law.”

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