Right On: A one-eared bear

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — He’s done it again. Let the lawsuits begin.

Trump ordered a review of all national monument designations since 1996. Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are clearly in his sights along with others. Die hard activists are howling even before they see the results.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the authority to create national monuments to preserve “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

Most Americans support protection and preservation of our country’s natural beauty and places of historical interest.

But the Act goes on: “The limits of (these designations) in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

These additional words put the extent of the natural beauty in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, in the eye of elected officials. And voters have elected a lot of skeptical eyes to public office in recent years.

Most Utah state and local politicians are united in opposing the size of both new monuments. Critics disparage their motives as catering to oil and mining companies and their campaign contributions. But in my mind, defending the size of these monuments stretches credibility.

Both the Grand Staircase-Escalante (1.88 million acres) and Bears Ears (1.35 million acres) monuments are gigantic by any standards. This Park Service list shows that only Alaska’s monuments are larger.

Hence the key issue: Is over 5,000 square miles in these two national monuments the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management?”

Democrats have their own donor base: wealthy environmentalists. Catering to this base, both Clinton and Obama described the natural beauty found in these monuments. But their words could apply to much of Utah’s southern half, home to five national parks and eight national monuments.

So where do we start and where do we stop designating Utah national monuments?

For example, Utah is covered with petroglyphs. We’ve got some fascinating ones south of Santa Clara, in Snow Canyon and in Lion Mouth Cave and Parowan Gap in Iron County. Designate them all as monuments? How about dozens of similar petroglyph sites throughout the state? No reasonable person would be in favor of hundreds of postage stamp monuments. Yet all are of “historic or scientific interest.”

Does national monument status provide additional protection? Ironically no. Conservationists are killing the patient in order to save it.

In an interview with St. George News, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman said the new Bears Ears monument has disrupted the wilderness and wildlife the designation was meant to protect.

“Our tourism has more than doubled, tripled since the designation,” Lyman said. “We’ve had more people in the area since the designation than we have ever had before.”

We’ve all heard arguments that ranchers and wilderness guides are being forced off land that they’ve used and protected for generations. Sounds like Clinton and Obama should have offered them job training as motel operators.

But at least the Native Americans are happy, right? In a word, no. Local tribes say cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites were better protected by the prior wilderness study area designation. Outsiders are much more likely to visit a national monument than a wilderness study area. Like local ranchers, the tribes have no trust in federal bureaucrats administering land they have treasured for centuries.

Native American support for Bears Ears came primarily from outside the local area. The Inter-Tribal Council was playing to the powers that be in Washington, D.C., while ignoring local input.

By the way, members of this same group are lobbying to keep the Navajo-owned coal-fired power plant near Page, Arizona, open. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” No little minds among Navajo leadership.

Can Trump legally reduce the size of a national monument? Yes, and there are plenty of precedents.

Presidents Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy all “diminished” (the National Park Service’s word) national monuments including several in Utah.

Ominously, The Wildlife News states that such action “was never litigated.” Guess what’s coming soon to a courtroom near you. Actually not to a courtroom in Utah, I’m sure. Why not?

Radical conservationists will go shopping for a judge who’s a member of the Sierra Club. That judge will issue an injunction and the process will be stalled in the courts for years, precedents notwithstanding.

Liberals have perfected this process. Frequently unable to win at the ballot box, they repeatedly turn to the courts to impose their will on the people: Abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration orders come to mind. Prohibitions on diminishing national monuments are next.

I support reasonable size reductions of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

But the longer-term solution is repealing the Antiquities Act and requiring Congressional approval of all designations. As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, “Somewhere along the way the Act has become a tool of political advocacy rather than public interest.”

Political advocacy over public interest? Say it isn’t so.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • comments May 4, 2017 at 11:30 am

    What I got from this: seems Howard is not a nature lover in the least–likely an extreme anti-environmentalist, extreme anti-conservationist. I still find it ironic how such similar names of two different interests (conservative & conservationist) can have such extreme differences in ideology. And my how things have changed–Nixon was a conservative republican and likely did more for the environmental movement that any other president.

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