AP Fact Check: Trump’s curious case for shrinking monuments

President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments at the Utah State Capitol, Dec. 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump made a curious case for stripping federal protections from vast stretches of two of America’s national monument lands.

For one, he said his decision will give Native Americans back their “rightful voice over the sacred land.” But they already have specified rights on the land, thanks to the national monument designation under the Antiquities Act, and fear losing those rights under his decision. That’s why they’re fighting his action in court.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Trump also said that thanks to his decision, “families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations, and they will preserve it for generations to come. Cattle will graze along the open range. Sweeping landscapes will inspire young Americans to dream beyond the horizon.”

But hiking, hunting and cattle-grazing are already allowed on the lands that make up the two national monuments he is targeting in Utah: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. If the loss of protection spurs energy development, people may see mines on a sweeping landscape where they are now forbidden.

A look at his statement in Salt Lake City on Monday about his plan to reduce Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half:

Trump: “As many of you know, 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.”

Facts: That’s not exactly what Teddy Roosevelt’s 1906 preservation law says. It states, in essence, that the federal government should not bite off more than it can chew when a president designates an area for protection. It doesn’t demand that such land be kept to a minimum. Such protected land “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” it says.

Cedar Mesa House on Fire, Bears Ears National Monument, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

—”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.”
—”Here, and in other affected sites, we have seen harmful and unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching and responsible economic development. We have seen grazing restrictions prevent ranching families from passing their businesses and beloved heritage on to the children, the children that they love. We’ve seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities, and the fact that they’ve done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington.”

Facts: Native rights are generally enshrined on national monument lands, not terminated. So are other public uses of the land. What’s most at stake is new mining, logging or commercial development.

Of the two Utah monuments, Grand Staircase is the primary prospect for potential mining because of past interest in a large coal reserve on the lands. Worries about Bears Ears are mainly about disturbing Native American artifacts and general disrespect for land considered sacred by multiple tribes.

Trump’s point about “responsible economic development” goes to the heart of the actual debate over whether Washington is imposing unreasonable restrictions in monument lands. And ranchers bristle under what they consider heavy-handed rules for grazing on these lands.

But the notion that rural families can’t enjoy the beauty of a national monument is unsupported.

When President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears a year ago, for example, current uses of the land were maintained, tribal access among them. It was “closed to new extractive uses such as mining and oil and gas development.” Among the activities or installations allowed: “traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing, legal grazing, military training operations, and utility corridors.”

Five tribes lobbied Obama to declare Bears Ears a national monument to preserve lands that are home to ancient cliff dwellings and an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites. Native Americans visit the area to perform ceremonies, collect herbs and wood for medicinal and spiritual purposes, and do healing rituals. The tribes filed a suit Monday night challenging Trump’s action.

A coalition of environment groups filed the first of several expected lawsuits challenging Trump’s move on Grand Staircase-Escalante, established by Bill Clinton when he was president.

The groups say Trump’s decision endangers a “Dinosaur Shangri-la” full of fossils. Some dinosaur fossils sit on a plateau that is home to one of the country’s largest known coal reserves, which could now be open to mining.

Written by CALVIN WOODWARD and BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

McCombs reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • NickDanger December 6, 2017 at 6:35 am

    Hey, it’s just LAND. It’s our land, and if it wants developing, we don’t need the federal government telling people they can’t develop it. There’s plenty of this type of area set aside for recreation here in the wild, wild west – way more than enough.

    Trump’s logic might not stand up to a fact check but that doesn’t matter. In effect he is shrinking the government, and that’s always a good thing.

    • desertgirl December 6, 2017 at 7:49 am

      The hysterical progressives never have enough government.

  • Sunshinegirl December 6, 2017 at 7:44 am

    I think it’s pretty odd Barack set aside more land for a national monument followed closely by Bill Clinton and George than any other Presidents. I have a hard time believing it’s for the good of our country. #MAGA #Trump

  • Not_So_Much December 6, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Looks like an equitable compromise to me. The Constitutional solution would be for the State to be in control. Too bad STG News doesn’t present a balanced picture of the issue.

  • DRT December 6, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Fact: Death Valley National Park. When Slick Willy talked Congress into changing the DV National Monument into Death Valley National Park, they also expanded the area. The National Park Service could not take care of the roads and trails in Death Valley, but it “was determined” that what they really needed to do was practically double the size of the park. They then proceeded to kick people off of historic mining claims. Claims that had been legally registered and worked by families for generations. The folks that lost their rights to work their claims didn’t have enough money to battle this in court.

    Fact: Once again in Death Valley. The Timbisha Shoshone indian tribe. The NPS attempted to kick this people off of what was historically their land. NPS found they bit off more than they could chew with this one.
    So they “generously” “allowed” the tribe a tiny area where they could have a village. However their constant harassment of the people who live there is ridiculous.
    Fact: There are some “private inholdings” in the park, that try as they will, the NPS can’t kick people off of, since the land is privately owned. One is a big mining operation, another is a resort. But over the years, cooperation with these inholders is entirely dependent on whoever happens to be the park superintendent at any given time.

    At least The BLM is willing to work with people who have historic ties to the land. But with the NPS it really is a case of “This Land Is My Land! And we will dictate everything that happens here.”

    I do believe there are areas that need the protection of national park status. But there is so much waste and bureaucracy in the NPS that they are their own worst enemy.

  • Caveat_Emptor December 6, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Thankfully Clinton tied up GSENM years ago, when coal might have been economically viable to mine there. Since then, thermal coal has declined precipitously in the energy generation mix, replaced by natural gas. Hard to imagine it could become economic once again. The economy of Escalante, and its “suburbs”, has moved on to tourism, and related activities. The local folks have realized that the future is not in mineral extraction. To their credit they adapted, or in some cases moved away for employment.

    The ranchers in SE Utah adjacent to Bears Ears NM are enjoying a form of federal welfare by leasing vast tracts of grazing land for a fraction of its economic value (for grazing). No wonder they have pushed this, in addition to their distaste for anything O-bama. These places are set aside for future generations, and judging by the typical commentary in these pages, most current readers will need to expire before the support for preservation is stronger.

  • ladybugavenger December 6, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    So, now that the land has been given to the state to oversee. Y’all don’t need to go federal, you need to go local and fight. Right there, in salt lake city, with your expiring governor.

    • bikeandfish December 6, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      The land was federal before Obama’s monument designation (same with GSENM and Clinton) and remains federal after Trump’s proclamation.

      The Antiquities Act only allows the president to designate monuments on federal land.

      It will be interesting to see if Utah will forfeit the millions of dollars it was given in exchange for the land deal they made after the designation of GSENM. Utah made a good faith agreement at the time that is has fundamentally reneged on after years of lobbying for these changes.

    • ladybugavenger December 6, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      I don’t have time to study what’s going on over there. I’ve got my own land issues here in Oklahoma. The BIA stealing land, shredding/losing documents for my husband’s family’s native american restricted land/mineral rights. It’s cost us $14,000 So far just to get the land and mineral rights that was there’s to begin with. What I’ve learned so far….tribal government is like white people government- it will steal from it’s own people.

  • Harvey December 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Low information POS, I mean SCROTUS.

  • Thecadean December 9, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Once again the public is swindled into giving away its land to special interest. So Sad. One question. Will the State of Utah return the $50,000,000 it took from the federal government for the initial exchange to monument status??

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