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Bears Ears could be reduced by 1 million acres, documents show

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Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 11:07 AM
The Bears Ears National Monument is named after this formation. President Donald Trump’s administration says it wants to shrink this monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
A map obtained by The Wilderness Society shows that the Bears Ears National Monument would be eliminated and replaced by two smaller monuments called Shásh Jaa’ (Bears Ears) National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument. The original boundaries of the Bears Ears are outlined in black.
Ute Mountain Ute Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk says shrinking Bears Ears National Monument will put Native American cultural resources at risk.
The Wilderness Society

A map obtained by The Wilderness Society shows that the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be broken up into smaller monuments. Grand Staircase National Monument, Escalante Canyons National Monument and Kaiparowits National Monument would be created. The original boundary of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is outlined in black.

Maps and documents obtained by The Wilderness Society and The Washington Post show that dramatic changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments are expected to be announced by President Donald Trump on Monday.

Bears Ears would be replaced by two much smaller national monuments, and Grand Staircase-Escalante would be replaced by three smaller monuments.

According to Trump administration documents obtained by the Post, Grand Staircase-Escalante will be modified into Grand Staircase National Monument, Escalante Canyons National Monument and Kaiparowits National Monument. Combined, the three new monuments total 997,490 acres, or about half the current 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The documents show that Trump plans to modify Bears Ears into Shásh Jaa’ National Monument, encompassing Comb Ridge, and Indian Creek National Monument, adjacent to Canyonlands National Park.

Shásh Jaa’, which means Bears Ears in the Navajo language, would include the Moon House and Doll House ruins as outliers. Combined, the two new monuments would total 201,397 acres, more than 1 million acres smaller than the current 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument designated by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016.

Trump states in the documents that the monument modifications are “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects identified by Proclamation 9558 for Bears Ears and 6920 for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments that I find are appropriate for protection under the Antiquities Act.”

Trump is expected to announce the monument modifications when he visits Salt Lake City on Monday.

The Post reported that individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity cautioned that some changes could be made before Trump makes his decision public.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that U.S. Department of Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said the Post story was based on “very old and outdated information.”

Steve Bloch, legal director for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told The Journal that the Alliance plans to immediately challenge the changes.

“We strongly believe it is an unlawful act and will move quickly to sue,” he said.

Legal strategies are still being worked out, he said, including whether an emergency injunction should be filed to put the changes on hold while the case goes to court.

“There will be outrage if the president moves forward with the plans outlined in these maps,” said Jamie Williams, Wilderness Society president. “Fortunately, the law is on the side of protecting these valued lands, and once again, the president’s actions will be met on the courthouse steps.”

Jennifer Dickson, communications manager for The Wilderness Society, said that “a source we believe to be credible within the administration passed these maps along to us. We were told the maps were circulated within the administration very recently.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said that “action to diminish the Bears Ears National Monument in any way will be an action against the Navajo Nation and the Navajo people who have worked so tirelessly to protect these lands. Just as the Navajo Nation fought for the creation of the monument, the nation now stands ready to defend the full 1.35-million-acre monument.”

To view the leaked maps, go to bit.ly/leakedmaps.

Monuments boost economyCritics of Trump’s plans to modify Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante say it would hurt the Utah economy and Native American cultural resources.

Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, Ute Mountain Ute tribal member Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk and Grand County council member Mary McGann spoke about their concerns Thursday during a telephone conference hosted by Western Leaders Network.

Their comments came just hours before the two maps, reportedly leaked to The Wilderness Society and Native American Rights Fund, were released.

Korenblat said it is important for communities that historically rely on extractive industries to diversify their economies through promotion of outdoor recreation. Preserving lands for recreation through monuments is one way to get there, she said.

“The outdoor industry depends on designated areas that are protected to attract visitors because it is those areas that drive the recreation industry,” Korenblat said. “Nobody wants to recreate in an industrial zone.”

Keeping Bears Ears and Grand Staircase at their current sizes is viewed as critical to handling the increasing visitation in southeastern Utah.

“Right now, our national parks are full, Zion is full, Arches is full – people are waiting in line to get in. Shrinking the boundaries of these monuments does not make sense when there is that much demand,” she said.

She added that America’s national parks and monuments help define America.

“Europe has castles and cathedrals, we have incredible landscapes.”

The monument is the first of its kind to be guided by a Native American commission representing five regional tribes with ancestral ties to monument land.

The Bears Ears Commission of Tribes includes Terry Knight of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, Shaun Chapoose of the Northern Ute tribe, James Adakai and Davis Filfred of the Navajo tribe, Alfred Lomaquahu of the Hopi tribe and Carleton Bowekaty of the Zuni Tribe.

Lopez-Whiteskunk of Towaoc lobbied for the monument along with representatives of the five tribes. She said the Bears Ears monument preserves cultural tribal sites and preserves the landscape for future generations.

“The monument balances protection with access to public lands. Native tribes see ourselves as caretakers of Puebloan sites on this landscape where many tribal ancestors lived and where their final resting places are,” she told The Journal. “To shrink the monument with tens of thousands of documented cultural sites, plus many more undocumented but known through our oral histories, is appalling.”

She said the natural and cultural values will come under threat from energy development without the monument’s protections.

McGann spoke about the history of when Canyonlands National Park, which was designated a national park in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Locals opposed it then as they are now, she said, but it benefited the area’s economy.

“Our national parks got us out of the depression in the 1980s when the uranium mines closed down,” McGann said. “Protecting the land did not hurt us, it did the opposite. A similar thing is happening with Bears Ears, where many people do not see the value of protecting the land for future generations.”

The Post reports that the Interior Department has informed “multiple individuals who spoke on condition of anonymity” that Trump plans to reduce Bears Ears by more than 1 million acres.

Shrinking the monument by that much is new legal territory and will trigger lawsuits from environmental groups and tribal organizations.

“There is a long list of organizations that will tie this up in court,” said Lopez-Whiteskunk told The Journal. “The Antiquities Act that allows for monuments has stood the test of time.”

jmimiaga@the-journal.comThis story has been corrected. The correct name of the organization that hosted the telephone conference is Western Leaders Network.

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