President Donald Trump traveled to Salt Lake City in December to sign two presidential decrees—one reducing Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 47 percent, the other slashing the Bears Ears National Monument by 83 percent. His illegal actions were immediately challenged in court.

Members of the Utah delegation also seemed to realize the president’s actions were illegal: they moved quickly to codify the Trump proclamations. On the very day Trump signed them, Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) introduced HR 4532, the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act. Just two days later, fellow Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart attacked the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with a
similarly detestable piece of legislation.

Curtis’s bill replaces Bears Ears National Monument with two dramatically smaller monuments while effectively giving San Juan County and certain individuals chosen by the Utah delegation authority to manage some of our most spectacular national lands.

Curtis specifically limits the voices of Native Americans by, among other things, excluding three out of five tribal representatives from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. Tribes were not even consulted during the drafting of this legislation.

Virgil Johnson, chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, speaks at a press conference denouncing Rep. Curtis’s Bears Ears giveaway bill (HR 4532). Copyright Terri Martin/SUWA

The first hearing on the Curtis bill was held in early January before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Only one Native American was allowed to testify. Committee Democrats requested a second hearing; it was held on Jan. 30 and all five tribes were invited to testify. All voiced opposition to the Curtis bill.

“This is not a bill designed to help protect the lands for the tribes,” said Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred. “It is a bill that provides near-exclusive control of these federal lands in the state and local counties’ hands, and gives only lip service to tribal interests.”

Rep. Stewart’s HR 4558, introduced two days later on December 6th, is cynically titled the Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act. Like the Bears Ears legislation, it creates a management scheme for the monument that would be dictated by parochial local interests. It also contains a bait-and-switch proposal to establish a new national park—that is, a park in name only which would prioritize grazing, hunting, and recreation. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on the measure in mid-December.

The two shameful monument measures are likely to move in tandem. We’ll keep you posted on their progress.
Not all current monuments legislation is doom and gloom, though. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) recently introduced the Bears Ears National Monument Expansion Act (HR 4518). This legislation would protect the original 1.9 million acres identified by Tribes as culturally sensitive and sacred. Gallego’s bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands.

—Adrienne Carter

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2018 issue)