Early this week I compiled an article on the massive environmental feat accomplished by the Chilean government and Tompkins Conservation (can be found under the Conservation tab). However, it seems that while Chile was courageously investing in expanding the amount of protected land in their country the United States was running in the opposite direction. There is no question that President Trump is no environmentalist, from calling climate change a hoax to repeatedly supporting fossil fuel giants, he is also the president to enforce the largest national monument reduction in all of U.S. history.
On Monday, December 4th, 2017, Trump announced that he would be massively shrinking two of Utah’s National parks by nearly 2 million acres. Although he faced heavy criticisms and protests from Navajo nation and conservationist groups his December decision took effect on February 2nd. Bears Ears National Monument has been reduced to 16 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante to a little over half of its original size. The President argued that the federally protected land should be in the hands of the state, of the local Utahans. What he failed to recognize, or chose to ignore, was that the National Parks bear much more importance to native peoples and science.
Bears Ears is best known for tens of thousands of relatively intact archaeological sites and petroglyphs within its boundaries. Some date from the ancestral Pueblo era, and many tribal members continue to visit the area regularly to conduct rituals as well as to gather herbs and firewood. Grand Staircase’s Kaiparowits Plateau ranks as one of the most important examples of the Mesozoic Era, when dinosaurs roamed the area, according to David Polly, president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Nearly half of the plateau falls outside the new boundaries, Polly noted in an interview — including nearly all of the Tropic Shale, a roughly 94 million-year-old swath of rock that the new proclamation identifies as a protected object.
The decision infuriated the Navajo Nation, and rippled throughout indigenous communities. After asking to meet with the president repeatedly to discuss the decision and insisting he at least visit the monuments first, Trump never met with the Navajo President nor did he visit the monuments. “The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a written statement.
Refusing to stand down the Navajo nation filed a lawsuit arguing the president was abusing his power based off the Antiquities Act, which was originally intended to protect against the looting of ancient artifacts from public land, to make it harder for presidents to use it as a means to create large national monuments. By the end of the day that the president made his announcement in Utah conservationists groups had also filed a series of lawsuits on similar grounds. Portions of the land that were excised from the monument by the Trump administration will again be open to claims under the General Mining Law of 1872.
“I think the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits,” Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of outdoor gear company Patagonia, told CNN. “We’re losing this planet, and we have an evil government. And not just the federal government, but wacko politicians out of Utah and places. I mean, it’s evil. And I’m not going to stand back and just let evil win.”
Unfortunately, as Trump was successful in pursuing and enforcing his decision it has paved the precedent that future presidents could follow his example and drastically shrink previously instated national monuments, green lighting development from corporations. Trump’s success also presents the possibility that he could do it again.
As election year is now upon us, 2020 presents the opportunity to vote for politicians and a president that will hopefully regard national monuments and environmentalism with the opposite perspective as President Trump. Hopefully, the future holds greener policies that will increase the country’s conservation and restoration efforts!
References: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/04/567803476/trump-dramatically-shrinks-2-utah-national-monuments, 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, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/us/trump-bears-ears.html, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/12/trump-shrinks-bears-ears-grand-staircase-escalante-national-monuments/