More than seven months have passed since President Trump took the unprecedented step of ordering the dismantlement of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.
SUWA responded quickly. With our partners, including Earthjustice and NRDC, we immediately challenged those decisions in federal district court in Washington, DC. So did others. A coalition of Native American tribes sued in defense of Bears Ears, as did a separate coalition of conservation and business groups. Another coalition of groups brought suit to defend the Grand Staircase-Escalante. Altogether, there are five lawsuits pending against Trump’s unlawful actions.
Shortly after the cases were filed the United States asked the judge to transfer them from Washington to Salt Lake City. That motion is still pending and the judge has stayed further proceedings until she rules on it. A decision could come down any day.
Trump’s minions are not waiting around. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is racing ahead to prepare new land management plans for the roughly 900,000 acres cut out of Grand Staircase-Escalante, as well as for the five smaller monuments Trump created from the remnants of the original Grand Staircase and Bears Ears. The plans are scheduled to be completed by early 2019.
The BLM is designing those plans specifically to weaken protection for the little that remains of the monuments—including the very objects that Presidents Clinton and Obama enumerated for protection in their establishing proclamations.
Silencing Public Voices
In stark contrast to the public hearings held across the country in the late 1990s for the Grand Staircase-Escalante management plan, Trump’s BLM is holding meetings only in southern Utah counties—and imposing abbreviated comment periods into the bargain.
Commodity types aren’t waiting for the cases to be decided, either. We’ve seen a recent uptick in new mining claims on the public lands Trump seeks to exclude from the two monuments, as well as a few proposals to actually mine. We also fully expect that the BLM will try later this year to offer new oil and gas leases within the original Bears Ears boundaries. As we all knew, and the New York Times confirmed this spring, oil, gas and mining interests were very much in the Trump administration’s mind—if not actually in charge—as the president carried out his savage attack on the monuments. We are seeing that borne out on the ground. Think of it, perhaps, as payday for pillagers.
Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting, is the palpable change in the backcountry. County officials are becoming increasingly brazen about flouting road closures established in the Grand Staircase-Escalante management plan (closures that remain in effect today, at least until changed by Trump’s new plans). Examples of illegal off-road vehicle use are more frequent in both monuments, and there is confusion amongst the public about where they can and cannot (or should not) go. At best, the BLM is turning a blind eye towards these problems; at worst, the agency is complicit in exacerbating them.
Much rides on our and our colleagues’ success. Stay tuned—it’s going to be a wild ride.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, summer 2018 issue)