Today marked an important moment as President Donald Trump made much-needed changes to sweeping land use designations made under previous administrations.
The Trump administration listened to the combined voices of individual citizens, tribal members, small communities, and elected officials from the county, state, and federal levels. In doing so, Trump has responded to Utahns’ calls by dramatically reducing the size of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, which had a combined land mass larger than the state of Connecticut.
This is a good step forward in reforming a law that has too easily been abused to drown out the voices of the people who care most about these lands. Today marks a victory for the people of southern Utah who know and love their public lands the most.
Trump’s bold move to reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments is the result of a true grass-roots effort. Locals held rallies, lobbied their representatives, passed resolutions, fundraised, and so much more, traveling hundreds of miles to do so.
While Kane, Garfield, and San Juan counties celebrate, they understand that these two national monuments were just a symptom of a much larger problem.
Unlike previous designations, recent national monuments were not about protecting specific historic and cultural sites as outlined in the Antiquities Act. Instead, political gamesmanship, outdoor recreation, presidential legacies, climate change, and a host of other motivations drove the designation process.
The result is expansive national monuments that restrict access, weaken local economies, corrode rural communities, and put the very archeological resources they are supposed to protect at a greater risk of destruction.
Presidents of both parties have abused the Antiquities Act for decades and will continue to do so as long as they are allowed to designate national monuments unchecked with just the stroke of a pen.
It’s time that Congress act to transform the Antiquities Act into a law of the people, by the people, and for the people, where constitutional principles safeguard the environment, protect archeological sites, create abundant recreational opportunities, and secure the American dream for rural communities.
If there is no change in the Antiquities Act, Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and southern Utahns will be in danger of future unilateral action with every change of presidential administration. Hardworking Americans and our public lands deserve better.
Here’s what we propose. National monument designations and reductions should be approved by Congress and state elected officials. By integrating state leaders and Congress into the process, we’ll protect the will of the people from presidential overreach and the whims of centralized government.
No longer would Utahns sit on pins and needles waiting to see how a president changes the management of millions of acres. Instead, we can assure that local voices are prioritized over political and ideological interests with the democratic process as a central fixture in the future of our public lands.
We want to thank the Trump administration for finally listening to the voices of San Juan, Kane, and Garfield county residents and giving power back to the people. This is truly a step in the right direction.