paintings-UTAH_NPSHe orders the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, natural and cultural reservoirs in the U.S.

After numerous debates, on December 4, President Trump officially announced the reduction of Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, two of the most important and emblematic Natural and Cultural Reservoirs in the U.S. These spaces had set precedent in terms of the protection of natural and culturally relevant sites, since they were protected under the Antiquities Act and are legacies of former President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. The reduction of these natural protected zones puts at risk the management of the natural resources of the region and hence the cultural and spiritual legacy within them.

President Trump approved the 84% reduction of Bears Ears, diminishing it from 1.4 million acres to 220 thousand, while Grand Staircase-Escalante lost 52% of its protections, going from 1.9 million acres to just a million.

When making this reduction officially public, Trump argued:

“Past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standards and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.”

The cessation of the protection of these important historical monuments is only backed up by a small minority, primarily comprised of entrepreneurs, who have shown a strong interest in developing extraction activities from fossil fuels and mining.

Senator Orrin Hatch did not hesitate to show his immediate support suggesting the economic interests behind these actions and declared:

“President Trump is many things: he’s the commander in chief, the master dealmaker, and a wildly successful billionaire. But he’s also a man who comes through on his commitments to the people of Utah.”

However, the vast majority of the population affected by these decisions have consistently requested the protection of the zones, and have expressed their disagreement with the decision to reduce the areas. It must be remembered that Bears Ears was promulgated at the request of 5 indigenous nations to former President Obama, based on their sovereignty and arguing on the historic, spiritual and cultural bonds that exist in the National Monument. On the other hand, Grand Staircase-Escalante is an important site for Hispanics, more than 2.8 million public comments supported the decision when it was enacted.

As a sign of dissatisfaction on the low blow to the different ethnic groups, the Native American Activist, Fawn Douglas expressed: 

“Native American Heritage Month comes to a close and President Trump immediately pivots to approving plans to remove protections from thousands of acres of public lands especially significant to Native communities — without our input, without our consent, without a care. Although I feel profoundly disappointed and saddened by this announcement, it comes as no surprise.”

Leaders of natural resources advocacy organizations immediately made their voices heard.

Adrianna Quintero, Executive Director of Voces Verdes said:

“Removing protections for more than two million acres of public lands in the American West is a giveaway to private drilling and mining. Once again, Trump and his team have put corporate profits over the interests of the American people.”

As an immediate response to this event, Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club also made an statement: 

“Yet again the Trump administration has sold out the American people and our special places — all to benefit the fossil fuel elite. We cannot afford to leave the protection of Native American sacred sites, special places of great cultural and historic significance for Latinos, outdoor recreation destinations, and natural wonders to the goodwill of polluting industries.” 

Likewise, Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters, severely criticized what happened:

“This unprecedented act goes beyond the administration’s legal authority and ignores millions of public comments as well as the hard work of tribal communities to protect sacred sites and archaeological treasures. By opening up these national monuments to oil, gas and coal speculators, the Trump administration is proving once again that they only care about padding the pockets of their polluter allies.”

Given these facts, the Navajo Nation declared that it was never consulted on the reduction issue and said that it is preparing to sue in conjunction with other tribes, while Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on Monday representing different organizations. More lawsuits are expected as the affected population and other sympathizers will join to sue for the defense and protection of these important historic sites. Although, it is yet to be seen how well organized society is, given that when other reductions —of lesser impact— have occurred in previous occasions, there is no evidence of any legal action taken.

By: Karen Janett Carranza Jiménez/LatInformation