Ignoring Public Opposition and Legal Challenges, Department of Interior Releases Draft Management Plans
Escalante, UTAH – Today, an assortment of local and national groups, and globally-respected scientist organizations, denounced the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) release of draft management plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments as another step toward shrinking and destroying both. Despite unresolved legal challenges and a warning from 16 Senators in April to hold off on further planning, Secretary Zinke has pushed Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to hastily craft management plans–spending nearly 2 million taxpayer dollars so far–that do not reflect the original boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, or the public’s desire for these treasured places to be protected from mining and drilling.
While this administration continues to try to ignore public comment and dismiss the benefits of national monuments, these comments continue to be extremely important in demonstrating broad national support for protected lands.
Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are both world-renowned hotbeds of paleontological research, world-class destinations for outdoor recreation and natural beauty, and major economic drivers for small businesses in these regions. Bears Ears has been home to Hopi, Diné, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni peoples since time immemorial, and was designated as a national monument in 2016 to protect countless archaeological, cultural, and natural resources, including the wealth of traditional knowledge that Native people hold for this region.
Below are statements from advocates/organizations who disagree with the DOI’s planning process, and the hastily-issued management plans based on proclamations still being challenged in court:
Local Grassroots Organizations
Nicole Croft, Executive Director, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners
“Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is incredibly disappointed that the BLM is moving with such haste to present management plans for the reduced monuments and excised lands from the Grand Staircase for public comment, with significant cost to the taxpayers. By the BLM’s own estimate, the Grand Staircase plan alone has already cost American taxpayers $1,160,004. That’s money desperately needed to improve hiking trails, hunting grounds and law enforcement. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument already has a plan that should remain in place, continuing to protect the priceless antiquities within its borders, at least until a court rules on the legality of the Trump reduction.”
Honor Keeler, Assistant Director, Utah Diné Bikéyah
“It’s time that Native voices, as the original peoples of the Bears Ears region, are heard and the sovereign rights of Native Nations to protect their sacred places are recognized,” said Keeler, before adding, “These rights are affirmed through treaties, laws, legal precedent, and the government-to-government relationship Native Nations have with the federal government. In this country, we do not condone tearing down a church or temple with people in it and hand back in piecemeal the bricks and sacred items that have been destroyed. Likewise, the Bears Ears region is a sacred place that cannot be chopped up into pieces, for it is a sacred place in its entirety that has been used for thousands of years by the Indigenous Peoples of these lands.”
William Doelle, President and CEO, Archaeology Southwest
“The rushed timeframe the BLM has pursued has almost certainly resulted in a flawed document that aims to manage an unacceptably and illegally downsized national monument. The lack of tribal engagement and lack of appropriate landscape scale are clearly the biggest flaws. This flawed process unfairly but necessarily shifts the burden onto reviewers to engage with this and work to repair the omissions.”
David Polly, President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
“The consultation for the draft management plan was rushed through, especially with regards to the scientific resources that are the reason it was established, including astounding fossil sites– massive dinosaurs, and tiny mammals that record our own origins–in every part of the excluded areas of the Monument. Even with a comprehensive new management plan, the protection afforded to the more than 700 excluded paleontological sites is much weaker than in the original monument.”
Brian Sybert, Executive Director, Conservation Lands Foundation
“This is another important opportunity for the public–the owners of these lands–to stand up to this reckless process and register official comments of opposition. Should the Interior Department continue their proven habit of ignoring comments they don’t like, the public’s official input is still vital to the record and future decisions affecting these places.”
Nada Culver, Senior Counsel, The Wilderness Society
“We’re being asked to provide input as the administration demonstrates its true intent to disregard both the law and the public in managing our public lands, including our most treasured national monuments. The federal agencies have gone to the trouble of developing alternative plans that would prioritize protecting monument objects and natural and cultural resources, then stated that they prefer other approaches. Even more disturbing, lands that have been illegally cut out of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would now be thrown open to drilling and mining for coal, oil, gas and other minerals, with little regard for the true values of these irreplaceable lands. On top of that, these plans are being rushed through at an unprecedented pace while a court reviews legal challenges to President Trump’s invalid attempts to dismantle our national monuments. This is not acceptable and we will not accept it. We will continue fighting any and all efforts to undermine the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.”
Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
“The BLM’s proposed management plan for the lands President Trump unlawfully carved out of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is not only illegal, but sets the stage for the destruction of this unique landscape that has been protected for more than two decades. The BLM’s preferred alternative would open this remarkable place to new oil and gas leasing, mining, and off-road vehicle damage. To quote the BLM directly from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, their preferred alternative would ‘conserve the least land area for physical, biological, and cultural resources … and is the least restrictive to energy and mineral development.’ Places like the Circle Cliffs region along the Burr Trail and Wolverine Loop Roads and the Vermilion Cliffs east of Kanab are now in the crosshairs and at immediate risk of being irreparably destroyed. Even the lands that Trump left as national monuments would be managed in a way that is less protective than they currently enjoy. The plan for Bears Ears National Monument is equally bad, prioritizing consumptive uses such as grazing and logging and failing to protect cultural resources and wilderness-quality lands. SUWA won’t rest until Trump’s unlawful orders are overturned and will do everything in our power to ensure that these plans are never implemented.”