Southeastern Utah's parks and other protected lands were increased substantially, if temporarily, by the creation of Bears Ears National Monument by presidential proclamation in December 2016.
Located just south of Canyonlands National Park in San Juan County, the monument's original size of 1,351,849 acres was reduced by 85 percent by President Donald Trump one year later, occasioning applause in some quarters and outrage from those fearing a domino effect of resource exploitation, ecological damage and cultural loss.
Trump also vowed to reduce by half the 1.88-million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Undeveloped for the most part, and harboring what is said to be a wide range of historic, cultural and natural resources, Bears Ears is a flash point in an ongoing battle.
On Sept. 24, federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled that the cases filed against the Trump Administration’s “revoke and replacement” of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments will remain in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia where they were filed.
But the Department of the Interior must alert Native American tribes of the region, which are Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain and Pueblo of Zuni, at least 48 hours before allowing any “ground-disturbing activities” on lands the tribes consider sacred. The five tribes co-manage the Monument with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service.
Chutkan’s ruling called for the parties to begin briefings in early October. Public meetings on land-use planning for the monument “reflecting input from various stakeholders and the public” were being held in San Juan County by the BLM and Forest Service.
Questions about precedent and legality, plus the actual shape of reductions on the ground, are yet to be determined as lawsuits mount and the battle lines sharpen.