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Now it is National Monuments Under Attack

The Republican attack on America’s public lands and our nation’s most important environmental laws continues. Now, some radical Utah legislators are pushing President Trump to reverse the Bears Ears National Monument designation and radically amend the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, declared nearly a generation ago.


We want to downsize some of its boundaries — protect those areas that people visit, and downsize the rest,” said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who led a discussion of those plans Tuesday in the House Republican Caucus.

Those railing against these national monuments claim they harm local economies, steal private lands and ignore the desires of local communities. As with all the attacks on public lands these claims are all baseless lies. We need to protect national monuments from these attacks.

When it comes down to it, these claims are a smoke screen for the real intention of the anti-public lands folks.  What they really want is to give away public lands to their already extremely wealthy friends and sponsors. This is about more money for the uber-wealthy. It’s not about local communities and economies. It is not about “freedom” as they love to say.

One of the things many anti-public lands Republicans don’t understand…or more accurately, don’t want to understand…is that these monuments are incredibly popular and they aren’t declared willy-nilly. These lands already belong to ALL Americans. The monument designations are not arbitrary. The process of creating a national monument takes years. I know because I was part of the creation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico.

protect national monuments
Fall color in the Abajo Mountains. Bears Ears National Monument. Photographer: Tim Peterson


Talk of creating our local National Monument began in 1989. Plans came and went. Both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and monument supporters held dozens of public meetings and hundreds of one-on-one meetings with various stakeholders. Then the idea slept for a few years. When I began working on the monument in 2006, myself and a slew of other amazing people from business owners to environmentalists spent several years working with ranchers, wood cutters, hunters, bird watchers, mountain bikers, environmentalists and others to find a monument designation that worked for all of us. And by 2013 we had that widespread agreement. A very strong majority of the local public supported the designation and President Obama declared the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in March of that year.

This isn’t some one off. This is the process for all monuments. It’s a very slow, deliberate, inclusive and democratic process. And ZERO private lands were taken. The monument here, like all monuments, is declared for already existing public lands. Lands owned by all Americans. State and private lands are never taken for monuments as some monument opponents claim.

Further, recreation on these monuments generates more jobs and economic activity than mining and other extractive industries would.

 Travel and tourism is important to communities in the Grand StaircaseEscalante Region, representing about 37% of total private wage and salary employment, or 1,194 jobs, in 2008. In Utah, the Outdoor Industry Foundation reports that recreation contributes more than $5 billion annually to the state’s economy.

Every claim made by the anti-monument and anti-public lands crowd is just patently false.

Ironically, The move to get rid of national monuments or radically adjust their boundaries discounts the needs and opinions of local communities – not to mention the American people as a whole. It’s ironic to say the least. But really it’s just dishonesty.

In Utah as a whole, 45 percent of voters think creation of the monument was a good thing, compared with 25 percent who said it was a bad thing, according to a poll this year led by Colorado College.


Western voters overwhelmingly stand with today’s leaders working to protect deserving public lands.  According to the Colorado College poll, 80 percent of Westerners are in favor of future presidents protecting public lands with a national monument designation.

There’s is in fact widespread support for these national monuments throughout the country and especially within gateway communities. A large portion of the economies of gateway communities are oriented toward recreation on the monuments. Of course these polls don’t matter much to people with their own set of “alternative facts” but for those of us grounded in the real world it is important to realize the strong support these monuments actually have.

protect national monuments
Prehistoric Granary overlooks Cedar Mesa. Bears Eats National Monument. Photographer: Josh Ewing


Sadly, Mike Noel, the guy who wants to take down Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is being considered by Trump to lead the Bureau of Land Management…the agency that oversees many of the national monuments across the country.

 “Both these monuments are in my district,” Noel said. “Both of these monuments were illegal in my view. They were done as a result of wanting to pay off environmentalists,” the conservative lawmaker alleged, citing provisions of the 1906 Antiquities Act that require a monument to be as small as possible to protect threatened resources.

If you care about our public lands I urge you to TAKE ACTION to protect Bears Ears, Grand Staircase, our National Monuments and the Law that has created them. Also, be sure to call your Congresspeople again and again and express your support to protect national monuments and for our national monuments and public lands.



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