Utah's public lands have been at the center of the debate over the national monuments this year.
Utah's public lands have been at the center of the debate over the national monuments this year.

Trump Says Shrink Bears Ears. Now What?

On Friday, the President told Senator Orrin Hatch that he planned to downsize two Utah national monuments. Here's why nothing's likely to happen soon.


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On Friday, President Donald Trump told Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch that he will shrink the controversial Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, according to several news reports.

The President met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke early Friday before calling Hatch, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The President will visit Utah in December to make the formal announcement.

In August, as part of a larger review ordered by Trump, Zinke recommended that the President shrink the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears and the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in Utah.

What’s next? The public now waits to see if the President acts on his promise to Hatch, and if so, by how much he tries to reduce the monuments. Even if he does make good on his word, the two monuments' boundaries will remain the same until at least December. And even then, any action by Trump to shrink them is likely to be stopped or delayed by lawsuits. Native groups and environmentalists said they are ready to sue as soon as the President signs any changes to the monuments.

“Let's be perfectly clear: the President does not have the legal authority to shrink the boundaries of these treasured national monuments—period,” Drew Caputo, Earthjustice vice president of litigation for Lands, Oceans, and Wildlife, said in a statement. “The public has made clear in overwhelming numbers that they want to protect these cherished lands. If President Trump chooses to ignore these voices as well as the law, we will see him in court.”

Grand Staircase-Escalante has been widely debated since President Bill Clinton established it in 1996. Some studies have shown that the gateway area around the monument has benefited economically, leading to broad local support. “President Trump and Ryan Zinke’s attack on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is an attack on southern Utah's entrepreneurs and the thousands of jobs that depend on the Monument,” says Suzanne Catlett, president of the Escalante and Boulder Utah Chamber of Commerce. “The utter disregard for our thriving community and the views of local business owners like me, shows that President Trump could care less about jobs in rural America.” 

Yet plenty of politicians loathe the designation, while energy companies want another crack at its coal and other resources. Bears Ears, meanwhile, which President Barack Obama established just before leaving office, has angered people who feel that it was imposed from above and shuts down resource-extraction opportunities.

Across the country, though, the monuments seem to have strong public support. During the review, Zinke solicited comments about the fate of the protected lands. Over 99 percent of the respondents said they wanted the national monuments to remain as they are. 

In the short term at least, they probably will.