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Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
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Today, the Winter Solstice takes place in the northern hemisphere, which means we will pass through the longest night of the year. What most of us forget is that this darkness is not universal. In the southern hemisphere, December 21st is the longest DAY of the year. Shift the perspective from which you gaze and you move from huddling in dark to standing in blazing light.
For anyone who loves southern Utah’s redrock, there is good reason to experience recent weeks as a descent into darkness.
On December 4th, President Trump flew into Salt Lake City, and with the Utah delegation crowing with glee at his side, issued an illegal order gutting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Within hours, lawsuits were filed by Native American Tribes, SUWA, and many others, creating the possibility that these monuments could be restored through the courts. Then, Utah Representatives Chris Stewart and John Curtis introduced bills that that would make permanent Trump’s drastic reductions and worse. If these bills are passed by the U.S. Congress, the lawsuits are moot.
Without question, the future of the redrock is in extreme jeopardy.
But in this time of darkness, it is important to remember that light persists. It is also important to realize that YOU are the ones creating it—and it is powerful.
Take a moment and shift your gaze to these events.
An enormous crowd of over 6,000 people gather at the Utah State Capitol, spilling down from its expansive stone steps to sprawl across the vast sweep of lawn that extends southward. They stand shoulder to shoulder, Native and non-Native, young and old, holding signs and banners that proclaim their message: “We stand with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase! We will fight for and defend these monuments until full protection is restored.” A host of speakers—tribal leaders, elected officials, a scientist, the 11-year-old founder of Kids Speak for Parks, SUWA’s Latinx community organizer—speak their hearts to the crowd. Virgil Johnson, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute, pretty much sums it up when he closes his speech with “We will not be moved.”
Temperatures have plummeted and snow has fallen the night before. Nevertheless, thousands of people crowd the sidewalk on this Monday morning for a street protest just south of the State Capitol where Trump is speaking. They show up in down coats and snow boots, roll up in wheelchairs, braced against the bitter cold by shared passion and commitment. A group of young Native American women walk the edge of the crowd, unifying voices into chants that reverberate to the Capitol: “Defend the Sacred. Protect our Monuments.” When it is announced that Trump has acted, people drop to one knee and thump their hands against their chests, creating the sound of a single beating heart.
The weather has gotten even worse. It is bone chilling cold and one of those don’t-leave-the-house days in Salt Lake City when the smoggy inversion is so thick you can’t see the mountains that grace our skyline. SUWA is joining Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners to hold a press conference debunking and denouncing Rep. Stewart’s bill ratifying Trump’s repeal of Grand Staircase. We have asked citizens (who can spare time during a work day) to come stand behind the speakers with signs and banners in a show of support.
Again, a large crowd shows up. Standing together over 200 strong, they create a powerful sweeping panorama of bright orange “Save Grand Staircase” signs, punctuated with messages like “The President Stole Your Lands” and “Stop Stewart’s Theft.” As the speakers proclaim their shared commitment to stop Stewart’s bill, the crowd cheers and waves signs. Two days later, at the hearing in Washington, DC, 700 letters (half from Utahns, and many of those from folks in southern Utah) are submitted into the record. These letters were generated in a matter of days when word went out locally that they were needed.
These events are only the most dramatic examples of the blazing light created recently by activists standing up for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and America’s public lands in general. There are many more points of light across the country.
And here is why we believe the light of citizen activism will ultimately prevail over the dark acts threatening Utah’s redrock: that light is generated by love. And as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Our national monuments are way more than the smallest piece of ground necessary to preserve a scientific or historic object, the stingy perspective of Trump and the Utah delegation.
Our national monuments hold our values and tell our stories.
They are places that preserve what our democracy can really look like—for our entire community of diverse people, plants, and animals.
They honor our ancestors, protect our sacred sites and offer the chance to heal our history.
They are gifts to our children that create hope for the future.
Our national monuments were created out of vision, humility, and love.
When people show up to stand for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, it is an act of love—a loving devotion to these landscapes and what they stand for.
This is the light in the political darkness, and it is brilliant. It is also way more powerful than the dark acts of Trump and the Utah delegation.
So thank you to everyone everywhere who has showed up or spoken out in whatever way you have—coming to a rally or a protest, making a phone call, writing a letter to the editor, sending an email to your elected official. You are the light in the darkness, and it is because of the power of your love that we will prevail.
As you know, last week President Trump issued an unlawful order to repeal the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and replace it with three smaller monuments—leaving nearly half of the original monument unprotected.
The next day, Representative Chris Stewart (UT-02) introduced H.R. 4558, the “Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act” in the U.S. House of Representatives. This terrible bill would ratify Trump’s illegal repeal of the Grand Staircase-Escalante—and make his unlawful order permanent.
Rep. Stewart’s bill seeks to create a management scheme for the monument that would be tilted towards grazing and mineral development—development that would be dictated by parochial local interests.
And the bill includes a cynical bait-and-switch proposal to establish a so-called national park in a portion of the Escalante Canyons that would be managed not for conservation, but for grazing, hunting, and recreation. It is a national park in name only.
To save Grand Staircase, we need to stop this bill. Please contact your members of Congress now!
This atrocious bill is being given a hearing this Thursday, December 14th, and may move quickly through committee and onto the House floor. If it passes both chambers and becomes law, it will be even worse for Grand Staircase-Escalante than Trump’s executive order last week.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2017
Contact: Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (202) 266-0473
This week, following the outrageous and illegal repeal of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by President Trump, Utah’s representatives in Congress doubled down on the effort to unprotect these iconic landscapes by introducing two bills that would essentially ratify Trump’s actions.
On Wednesday, Rep. Chris Stewart introduced H.R. 4558, a bill that creates three new national monuments—Escalante Canyons, Kaiparowits, and Grand Staircase, respectively. These monuments match the 48 percent reduction of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument perpetrated this week by Trump’s Executive Order, but the language nullifies Trump’s proclamation in favor of that of the bill. The bill also creates the so-called “Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve,” but puts management planning for that park and the three national monuments in the hands of local officials in Kane and Garfield County despite the fact that these are federal lands belonging to all Americans.
All of the new designations prioritize recreation, hunting and grazing over conservation, and the bill reopens the lands not included in the Trump monuments to mineral leasing. The bill also includes a public lands giveaway, handing the Hole in the Rock Road to the State of Utah, and will likely reopen destructive off-road vehicle routes that have been closed for decades to protect sensitive resources.
“This bill is a brazen handout to the extremist voices who wish to eliminate federal control of public lands that belong to all,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Though it purports to protect these landscapes, by handing control almost exclusively to development interests in Kane and Garfield County, it is clear the remnants of Grand Staircase-Escalante would become playgrounds for destructive recreation, poor lands management and dirty energy. The bill, with its throw away National Park designation, is a bait and switch. No one should bite.”
The other bill, H.R. 4532, introduced Tuesday by new delegation member Rep. John Curtis, alongside Reps. Bishop, Stewart and Love from the Utah delegation, ratifies the new boundaries that Trump’s proclamation put forth for Bears Ears National Monument, replacing the Bears Ears with two significantly diminished landscapes: the 142,337-acre Shash Jáa National Monument, and the 86, 447-acre Indian Creek National Monument. These new boundaries are an 83 percent reduction in the original Bears Ears National Monument.
Like the Escalante bill, Rep. Curtis’ bill creates a new management council comprised of the same local elected officials that sought the undoing of the monument, as well as members of Tribes who are picked not by Tribal governments, but by the Utah delegation. Furthermore, the bill excludes three of the five tribes who advocated for protection of Bears Ears from the council. This framework ensures that the protective status of the original Bears Ears National Monument will not be honored in these newer, decimated parcels.
“The fact that these bills even exist is evidence that the Utah delegation knows Trump’s actions were illegal, and they are scrambling to set up a Plan B,” Groene said. “But the two million acres of lands that Trump stripped from the original Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments still belong to all Americans, and we will work with our allies in Congress, who are more motivated than ever, to ensure that neither of these efforts to hand over these national treasures ever see the light of day.”
President’s abuse of authority strips protections from a priceless cultural and natural heritage that belongs to all Americans
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2017
Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981
Washington, D.C. — Three days after President Donald Trump issued a proclamation taking an axe to Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, conservation organizations filed a lawsuit attacking the order as an abuse of the president’s power. Following in the footsteps of the Native American Tribes who have already sued the President, Earthjustice is representing nine conservation organizations in a suit charging that the president violated the 1906 Antiquities Act and the U.S. Constitution by eviscerating the monument. The unprecedented act leaves rare archaeological sites and stunning wildlands without protection from looting, prospecting, oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, or off-road vehicle damage. Bears Ears was decimated by more than 1 million acres. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are co-plaintiffs in the case, represented by counsel from those organizations.
“By revoking Bears Ears National Monument President Trump will be remembered for coming down on the wrong side of history,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The federal public lands and significant cultural resources within Bears Ears National Monument are world class treasures that demand the highest level of protection and respect. President Trump’s broad attack on Bears Ears—the first by any President in the 111-year history of the Antiquities Act—puts these lands and resources at immediate risk of damage and destruction and cannot stand.”
“Nearly three million Americans voiced their support for national monuments during Trump’s monument review, but he chose to ignore both the American people and the letter of the law to cater to the extractive industries who would gut our natural wonders,” said Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney in Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office. “We stand with Native American Tribes to defend Bears Ears National Monument from this outrageous attack.”
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. President Trump lacks the authority to gut a national monument that belongs to all Americans.
Home to ancient cliff dwellings, sacred tribal cultural sites, and iconic wildlife, Bears Ears National Monument is a national treasure. Its buttes, cliffs, and canyons include over 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, some dating to 12,000 B.C.E. To ensure its lasting protection from looting, mining and other threats, an historic inter-tribal coalition of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, the Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni successfully advocated for its protection as a national monument.
“Five Native Tribes came together in an unprecedented way to protect Bears Ears National Monument,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust. “This remarkable area had been considered for national monument status for 80 years, and President Trump’s action to eviscerate the monument after a hasty review dishonors not only their heritage, but our shared American heritage as well.”
President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016 using the Antiquities Act, a century-old law that has been used by 16 presidents since Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of our nation’s most cherished landscapes and cultural heritage. Congress enacted the law in 1906, granting presidents the authority to create national monuments on federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, historic or scientific features. The Antiquities Act does not, however, grant presidents the authority to diminish or rescind the monument designations of their predecessors. Only Congress can do that.
“The President has the unquestionable authority to create national monuments, and a monument like Bears Ears shows why this law should be respected,” said The Wilderness Society’s Senior Counsel Nada Culver. “We will fight to make sure that both the law and this place are defended.”
The thousands of archaeological sites in Bears Ears are in dire need of protection from ongoing looting and desecration. No fewer than six serious cases of looting were documented in 2016 alone. These majestic lands are also threatened by uranium mining and oil and gas drilling.
“The administration’s move to strip protections away from our treasured public lands leaves Bears Ears vulnerable to oil and gas development and looting of invaluable Native American cultural resources,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. “Bears Ears protects and connects the surrounding national park landscape that includes Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Natural Bridges National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. This place was deserving of its national monument designation, just as park sites like the Grand Canyon and Muir Woods were, and remains so today. An attempt to diminish these protections is a betrayal of the American people, and the more than 2.8 million American voices who asked that these incredible places remain protected as they are. We cannot and will not let this stand.”
Bears Ears National Monument is home to bears, cougars, and bighorn sheep, and is dominated by two buttes that jut thousands of feet above canyon lands to form the region’s namesake, “Bears Ears.” Bears Ears National Monument continues to be used for pilgrimage, prayer and ceremonies to this day, and is a healing place vital to sustaining Native American culture and religion for the Tribes with sacred ties to these lands.
“Overturning protections for critically important parts of the Bears Ears National Monument is an insult to people across the country who love and care about our public lands, and it’s a threat to the special places we leave as legacy for our children,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
“President Trump’s executive order obstinately ignores the will of the American people and the value Bears Ears holds for Native Americans, local communities and wildlife,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “Bears Ears National Monument supports a great diversity of plants, prized elk and bighorn sheep populations and 15 species of bat, yet the Trump administration would rather see this monument downsized and surrounded by oil and gas wells than protected for posterity.”
“Some of America’s best-loved national parks, such as Grand Canyon, Olympic, and Grand Teton, started off as Monuments that were designated amid a storm of local controversy,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of the Western Watersheds Project. “Twenty years from now, if our suit is successful, Bears Ears will be famous and treasured and its opponents will look just as foolish and short-sighted as those who opposed the Grand Canyon’s designation.”
“The Trump administration has crossed the line in attacking the clear authority of a previous president to declare a national monument,” said Shelley Silbert, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “President Trump lacks the legal authority to remove by fiat protection of any of the Bears Ears land for the enjoyment and use of future generations, and we stand ready to fight this in the courts.”
“The sacred places and archeological treasures in Bears Ears will be devastated if Trump’s order is allowed to stand,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Program Director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve seen the wreckage on public lands from toxic mining, drilling and fracking. Trump wants to ramp that up. It’s unconscionable and we can’t allow it.”
“It’s appalling that the president prioritizes the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry over protecting this incredible, vulnerable landscape that belongs to every American,” said Chris Krupp, Public Lands Guardian for WildEarth Guardians. “The president somehow kept a straight face at the signing ceremony when he spoke of increasing public access, but his only concern was industry’s unfettered access to Bears Ears’ resources.”
“President Trump grossly exceeded his authority in this shameful attempt to hand over sacred lands to private commercial interests,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “His order is not just illegal, it’s a serious affront to every American who values our country’s natural wonders. This landscape—with its petroglyphs, stone villages and sheer natural splendor—has been the homeland to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. We look forward to fighting in court to forever preserve these historical, natural, and cultural treasures that are held in trust for future generations.”
About the lawsuit:
Earthjustice represents nine groups challenging President Trump’s unlawful action: 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. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are co-plaintiffs in the case, represented by counsel from those organizations.
Resources for reporters:
Read the legal document
Photos & information on Bears Ears’ natural wonders are available for media use at “Defending Bears Ears”
Learn about the Five Native American Tribes working to protect Bears Ears
More on the Antiquities Act:
When President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, he established a legal framework for the protection of national treasures. The law gives presidents the power to designate monuments on federal lands and waters—an authority granted by Congress that has for more than a century protected landscapes of extraordinary cultural, scientific and ecological value.
The Antiquities Act has been used more than 150 times by presidents of both parties.
Every president since 1906—with the exception of Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush—has used the Antiquities Act to protect iconic places. The law has also been used to protect cultural heritage sites—from Stonewall to Birmingham to Cesar Chavez’s family home—that tell the more complete story of our nation.
The Congressional Research Service has found that the Antiquities Act does not authorize the President to repeal national monument designations. Only Congress has that authority. Numerous legal scholars have reached the same conclusion.
# # #
On December 4th, President Donald Trump swooped into Utah and committed the most destructive act against public lands in the history of the presidency by repealing both the decades-old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the not-yet-a-year-old Bears Ears National Monument.
Grand Staircase was shrunk by 47 percent, with about 1 million acres remaining. And in a slap in the face to the five tribes who advocated for it, Bears Ears was decimated, its 1.35 million acres reduced by 83 percent to just 229,000 acres.
Of course, we’ve seen this coming almost since the election last November. When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke began his so-called “review” of 27 national monuments, it was clear from the get-go that the number one targets were our monuments in Utah.
And it was sadly unsurprising when Zinke’s initial findings were leaked to reveal that he had ignored the overwhelming consensus of more than 2.8 million public comments that made it clear that the American people wanted their monuments left alone, instead recommending the types of major cuts that we have now seen.
Rest assured that we have not been caught off guard. For months we’ve been preparing for this moment, and we are taking this fight to the courts. There is no precedent for a president undoing a national monument, and we believe Trump has acted illegally. We are joining hands with our allies across the environmental community and the Tribes that have been so wronged in this act, and we will never stop fighting for these lands.
In the meantime, here’s how you can take action:
Take heart and stand with us. We are on the right side of history and we will win eventually.