Valley of the Gods, currently located within Bears Ears, Utah, will no longer be protected under the new monument designation.
Valley of the Gods, currently located within Bears Ears, Utah, will no longer be protected under the new monument designation. (Photo: BLM/Bob Wick)

Trump Plans to Shrink Bears Ears by 1.1 Million Acres

New documents suggest that President Trump's Monday announcement will involve downsizing the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by nearly a million acres each

Valley of the Gods, currently located within Bears Ears, Utah will no longer be protected under the new monument designation.

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According to a draft document obtained by Outside, President Donald Trump on Monday plans to gut Bears Ears National Monument, the first such area to be co-managed by native tribes, reducing it from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres. “I hereby further proclaim that the lands reserved as part of the monument shall be limited to the Indian Creek and Shásh Jaa' areas,” the document reads. Trump also plans to nearly halve the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, according to the documents, which were first reported by the Washington Post.

Though the document is a draft, the numbers line up with the size and scope of the reductions rumored to be coming from the Trump administration. “Those numbers match what you’ve been hearing out of Utah,” says Peter Metcalf, former president of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment and a longtime public lands advocate. Earlier this year, Utah governor Gary Herbert’s office sent a proposal to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposing a reduction of Bears Ears to roughly 120,000 acres. According to Metcalf, “The amount of due diligence [the Trump administration] did was next to nothing.”

Department of Interior Spokeswoman Heather Swift did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but did tell the Deseret News that the Post—which appears to have the same document obtained by Outside—had “very old and outdated information.”

“We have no reason to think it’s inaccurate,” says Natalie Landreth, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), a non-profit legal organization representing three of the tribes that plan to file suit should the Trump administration downsizes Bears Ears. Ms. Landreth added: “They’re bluffing. We call.”

According to the document, the names Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will be removed from the monuments. Bears Ears National Monument will become two new monuments, Indian Creek National Monument and Shásh Jaa' National Monument. (Shásh Jaa' is Navajo for “bears ears.”) Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument will in turn become three monuments: Grand Staircase National Monument, Kaiparowits National Monument, and Escalante Canyons National Monument, together comprising 997,490 acres.

Trump’s announcement comes after months of speculation about the future of Bears Ears. Soon after Ryan Zinke was appointed Secretary of the Interior, he announced a review of 27 national monuments around the country. In June, he recommended shrinking Bears Ears despite an overwhelming number of public comments in favor of preserving it. In August, he sent President Trump a memo suggesting that the federal government shrink the two Utah national monuments, as well as Cascade-Siskiyou, in Oregon. (The documents obtained by Outside make no mention of the Oregon monument.)

On Monday, Trump will officially reveal his decision in Utah, which is home to many of the politicians who have led the charge against public land. Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, for example, has spent much of his career trying to gut the Antiquities Act, which presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have used to protect lands without Congressional approval. Other members of the Utah delegation, including Governor Herbert and Senator Orrin Hatch, have also been eager to reduce the size of the monuments.

Metcalf suspects that this is part of a “quid pro quo” so that Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, would support the Republican tax bill. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the president recently told the senator, “I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin.”  

Monday’s announcement promises to be the beginning of a spirited legal fight. Along with NARF, the Navajo Nation, Patagonia, and a host of environmental groups plan to file suit arguing that President Trump doesn’t have the authority to so drastically resize Bears Ears.

“Americans have overwhelmingly spoken out against the Trump Administration’s unprecedented attempt to shut down our national monuments,” says Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia. “If this leaked document is true, the Administration’s unlawful actions betray our shared responsibility to protect iconic places for future generations. We’ve fought to protect these places since we were founded and now we’ll continue that fight in the courts.”

Lead Photo: BLM/Bob Wick