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UPDATE: President Trump Issues Proclamation To Shrink National Monuments, Tees Off Legal Battle


President Trump moved Monday to lop 1 million acres off Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and break it into three smaller monuments/BLM

Editor's note: This updates with a lawsuit being filed against the president's proclamation to cut 1 million acres from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A handful of hours after President Trump on Monday issued a proclamation to chop 1 million acres off the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah a lawsuit was filed to prevent that from happening. Other groups were expected to file a similar lawsuit over the president's move to reduce Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah, by 1 million acres.

“President Trump has perpetrated a terrible violation of America’s public lands and heritage by going after this dinosaur treasure trove,” said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney in Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountains office. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage. We will not let this stand. We will use the power of the law to stop Trump’s illegal actions.”

The lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., was filed in behalf of eight plaintiffs: The Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project.  The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit and represented by in-house counsel. It argues that while presidents can use The Antiquities Act to designate national monuments, they can not alter them; only Congress has that authority.

Part of the 60-page filing argues that President Trump's proclamation on Monday "lacks a rational explanation of the President’s authority to issue the proclamation, or an explanation for the decision to exclude areas with documented values that qualify for protection under the Antiquities Act."

Noting the rich paleontological resources held within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Earthjustice argues that "(W)ithout monument status, the BLM will not protect the scenic, scientific, ecological, historic, and cultural resources on these lands, and, on information and belief, it will reopen lands to coal mining and oil and gas drilling, with devastating consequences to the wild character and the scientific resources of the Monument."

The lawsuit came roughly five hours after President Trump descended through cold, murky skies to Salt Lake City to roll back what he called overreach by two of his predecessors. By declaring new boundaries for Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, a move that sheds 2 million acres combined from the two, the Republican claimed he was acting to preserve "states rights." At the same time, his action could also allow those 2 million acres of federal lands to be opened to energy development and other uses monument status had banned.

"Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington," President Trump said during an appearance on the Statehouse steps with Utah politicians and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "And guess what: They're wrong."

While the president maintained that Presidents Bill Clinton, who designated Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, and Barack Obama, who established Bears Ears a year ago, "severely abused the purpose, spirit, and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act," conservationists point to survey after survey that show strong support across the nation and in Utah, specifically, for these two monuments as well as others. Groups ranging from tribal organizations to corporations that dwell in the outdoor recreation market and non-governmental organizations that work to safeguard the federal realm of public lands, from national monuments to national parks, promised to challenge the legality of President Trump's actions.

“For over 20 years, countless volunteers from the community, business owners, schools kids, youth corps members, ranchers, scientists, historians, and professional land managers have worked hand in hand to make this national monument a success and a critical economic engine for southern Utah,” said Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. “The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is intricately woven into the fabric of our communities. This arbitrary review and illegal action will not go unchallenged.

“National monuments like Grand Staircase-Escalante help define who we are as a nation and as Utahns. Millions of people from all over the world have come to explore the Grand Staircase-Escalante and few leave unchanged. The dramatic landscapes, the visible history of the earth through stunning geology, the frontier experience of quietly exploring a canyon or bend of the Escalante river allow one to feel that they may be the first to ever behold such wild beauty."

President Trump signed proclamations Monday to reduce the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by a bit more than 1 million acres and break it into three monuments to be known as Grand Staircase, Escalante Canyons, and Kaiparowits. Bears Ears National Monument would be shrunk to a bit more than 201,000 acres from its current size of 1.3 million acres if his actions withstand legal scrutiny. In doing so, he said his predecessors had manipulated The Antiquities Act to create monuments much larger than necessary.

"This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control," he said. "We've seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities. And the fact they've done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington. We have seen needed improvements, like infrastructure upgrades and road maintenance, impeded and foreclosed. We have seen how this tragic federal overreach prevents many Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions."

At the National Parks Conservation Association, President Theresa Pierno wondered what next the president might do to the public landscape.

“Today’s action against Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante only solidifies NPCA’s perspective that the Trump administration’s actions against our national parks and public lands have been more harmful than any previous presidents," she said. “Nearly every U.S. president in the last century has valued our national parks and monuments. They’ve established them, they’ve protected them and like us, they’ve visited and enjoyed them. Instead, on his first trip to Utah as president, he is dismantling them. Since taking office, the Trump administration has implemented or proposed 30 executive actions that undermine national parks – from removing safeguards to clean air and water, to putting iconic park wildlife in the crosshairs. This latest move is one of the worst in this growing list of attacks on our public lands."

At the Sierra Club, Utah Chapter Director Ashley Soltysiak released the following statement: "The Antiquities Act does not give the President the legal authority to eliminate or reduce a national monument -- a power exclusively delegated to the U.S. Congress. This is yet another pathetic example of Trump’s continued abuse of power in support of special interests. This action is an unacceptable affront to the Tribal Nations who came together to protect the sacred lands of the Bears Ears National Monument."

Republican politicians in Utah, from the local level to the Statehouse and up to the congressional delegation, have sought ways to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument almost from the September day President Clinton designated it. Driving much of their determination have been coal reserves on the Kaiparowits Plateau, which covers about 1,650 square miles in southern Utah and touches not only the Grand Staircase-Escalante but also Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Bryce Canyon National Park. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that about 28 billion tons of recoverable coal lie within the plateau. 

Andelex Resources envisioned mining that coal for 40 years until the monument was created and banned their project. In the end, the Interior Department paid the company $14 million. 

If President Trump's proclamations stand up, those reserves could be opened up, leading to roads and rail tracks being cut into the landscape.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante also is extremely rich in paleontological resources, and scientists and researchers from across the country spoke out against the president's intentions. Nearly 150 scientists and researchers signed a letter stating that Grand Staircase-Escalante “hosts one of the highest concentrations of dinosaur fossils in the world,” and that only 6 percent has been surveyed, and that “the potential for future discovery is tremendous.”

“New discoveries, like those being made regularly in the rocks preserved within Grand Staircase-Escalante, have the potential to alter our understanding of the processes of evolution and the responses of life to a changing planet," said Joe Sertich, a Grand Staircase researcher from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

“Today we broke with a proud American tradition of protecting our public lands heritage," Adam Cramer, executive director of Outdoor Alliance, said Monday. "Rather than honoring the tradition started by Teddy Roosevelt that protects valued places in our country, the president denigrated these traditions and hacked up Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. His action disregarded overwhelming public support from Americans for keeping these glorious places protected. For us at Outdoor Alliance, the sting is not only about the attack on protections for some of the best outdoor recreation in the country, but it’s also an attack on our nation’s heritage. Which beloved landscape will be eviscerated next?”

At the American Alpine Club, CEO Phil Powers said the group "values public land and supports the preservation of our recreation resources. Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument include precious climbing destinations. Any decision to reduce them ignores the voices of millions who spoke up in favor of keeping these national treasures intact. We cannot support this clear assault on the Antiquities Act."

During the public comment period earlier this year on Secretary Zinke's review of 27 national monuments, an estimated 2.8 million comments were filed, with a strong majority said to be in support of the existing monuments and against any changes.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said President Trump lacked the legal authority to change the monuments' boundaries.

“Mr. Trump seems to take a perverse joy in ignoring federal law and dismissing the wishes of Native American tribes, conservation leaders and millions of everyday Americans," the Arizonan said. "Presidents don’t have the power to wipe existing monuments off the map and Republicans know it. This is an unpopular president making unpopular decisions without proper legal authority on behalf of ideological extremists and the oil and gas industry. This is the damage that results when we leave Republicans in charge.”

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President Trump doesn't have a clue what he's carping about.  He claimed that shrinking these National Monuments will return them to public use, and that National Monument designation means that hunting and fishing are prohibited.  This is simply untrue.  Secretary Zinke's studies were done in secret, and this travesty went forward despite public comments running 99% against this action.  Zinke pandered to a select group of Utah politicians who are tied into extractive industries, while ignoring other stakeholders such as the Native American tribes which spearheaded the Bears Ears designation, or hikers like myself who travel to Utah and spend money in the rural communities.   This gift to the mining industry ignores the increasing economic benefits of visitation to beautiful areas in Utah which are being relatively kept in their natural state.  Zinke likes to compare himself to Teddy Roosevelt, but that comparison is ludicrous.  I will increase my donations to groups which are fighting this perversion. 

I love how well Chaffetz fits in with Fox News.  And this piece really puts the lipstick on the call girl.

At this point Chaffetz is merely an obvious and public spokeswhore.

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Glad this happened.  Now even handicapped people can get in and enjoy it.  Closing roads etc have ruined a lot of NP's lately.  Not everyone can hike 10 miles to see something.

I do not claim to be an expert on all the issues here, but my observation is that is also the case with the story and most of the comments made.  A bunch of people expressing what runs through their veins... One thing I wonder about is does anybody really care what the locals think?  I mean they actually LIVE there.  I am a thousands of miles from there and I think that is as issue that needs more consideration by many of the commentators here. I really don't care to have somebody a thousand miles away telling me what I can do in my back yard!  

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