Trump’s Attack on Bears Ears Could Alter the Course of American Land Conservation

The Valley of the Gods in Bears Ears National Monument. (Photo: John Fowler)

We reported in July on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s re-evalution of the national monuments created by the Obama administration. That interim report pegged Bears Ears National Monument in Utah as a sure bet for alteration. The monument as designated by Obama encompasses more than 2,000 square miles long argued over by environmentalists, native tribes and energy, ranching and development interests. At that time any reduction would have been unprecedented and left some experts wondering if it’s even legal.

Well, now we know the score — and it is far worse than expected. According to The New York Times

President Trump said he would dramatically reduce the size of a vast expanse of protected federal land in Utah on Monday, a rollback of some 2 million acres that is the largest in scale in the nation’s history.

The administration said it would shrink Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by about 85 percent, and cut another area, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands.

The decision to reduce Bears Ears is expected to trigger a legal battle that could alter the course of American land conservation, possibly opening millions of protected public acres to oil and gas extraction, mining, logging and other commercial activities.

Under New Management

Neither Donald Trump nor Interior Secretary Zinke has a reputation as a conservationist, much less an environmentalist. And they are certainly not sentimental about the National Park System — what Ken Burns so lovingly titled “America’s Best Idea.” Earlier this year, we reported on Zinke’s tendency to load his advisory councils with industry executives rather than scientists or “the public.”

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