The Trump administration officially ordered the shrinking of two major national monuments in Utah earlier this week. The Bears Ears National Monument, which was set up by President Obama back in 2016, will be shrunk in size by 85 percent, whereas Grand Staircase-Escalante – a Clinton administration feature – will be cut by around 50 percent.
As reported by The New York Times, this loss of almost 8,100 square kilometers (3,100 square miles) is the most significant rollback in the history of protected federal lands in American history.
The Antiquities Act points out that presidents should only choose the smallest area possible in order to preserve sites of scientific or historic interest, and some landowners and conservative lawmakers have argued that recent monument designations have overreached in this regard. This latest decision, therefore, has been a cause for celebration for some.
Others – particularly Democrats, conservationists, researchers, and some Native American groups – see this as an attack on land that should remain protected. Although the land lost remains under federal control, the worry is that resource extraction will be allowed on the site – something that will almost certainly damage the surrounding environment and the tens of thousands of archaeological sites they contain.
Scientists, who often consider these monuments as living laboratories, are also dismayed by the decision. Speaking to Scientific American, several suggest that apart from important climate, palaeontological, and zoological research being upended by the actions, wildlife migration will be impacted too.
Upon hearing of the announcement, several tribes and groups of environmentalists explained to reporters that they’re going to protest the move. Some are planning to sue.
“The reductions are widely assumed to be a way to open more of these priceless landscapes to mining and drilling,” The Wilderness Society, a non-profit land conservation organization, said in a statement.
“[We] will be filing a legal challenge to this attack, and we won't be alone.”