While national monuments, which can be established under the authority of the Antiquities Act, are at the discretion of a sitting President, rarely are they created without the input or support from local communities.
When President Obama established national monuments like San Gabriel Mountains, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails and Bears Ears, it wasn’t done in a vacuum or on a whim, it was the result of years of diverse local coalitions coming together to advocate for protections. It was majorities of concerned citizens voicing their support. And it entailed countless meetings, letters, trips, media outreach, rallies and events.
But, today, President Trump dismissed these civic efforts with a stroke of the pen that reduces Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half. This is something that hasn’t happened in over a century – never in this magnitude -- and he did so without listening to our local communities.
Bears Ears is home to thousands of sacred Native American cultural sites and areas of spiritual significance. In calling for the area’s protection, five tribes – Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain and Zuni – formed a coalition with the support of an additional 30 tribes to advocate for the continued integrity of monument. These tribal leaders were joined by numerous other coalitions including businesses, veterans, Latinos, faith leaders and so on. Even the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board is questioning why President Trump is shrinking its monuments.
This decision also runs counter to concerns of the public at large. In total, at least 2.8 million comments were submitted with more than 99 percent in support of not closing or reducing the size of national monuments throughout the country during the Department of Interior’s public commenting period. The 2017 Colorado College conservation poll showed that 80 percent of voters back keeping national monuments in place, while only 13 percent support revoking them.
President Trump’s decision disregards what the majority of the public wants. Unfortunately, this decision neglects economics too.
A new report from Headwaters Economics found that the local economies surrounding all 17 of the national monuments studied grew following the creation of the national monuments. Additionally, trends in important economic indicators—population, employment, personal income, and per-capita income—also increased after creation of the monuments. Additionally, the Outdoor Industry reports that outdoor recreation in Utah only generates $12.3 billion in consumer spending annually, supporting 110,000 direct jobs, $3.9 billion in wages in the state, and $737 million in state and local tax revenue. It also accounts for more than double the number of jobs as mining and energy combined in the state. This trend isn’t confined to Utah – it’s like this all over the country.
These facts underscore how troubling and disheartening this assault on public lands is when you consider that President Trump is expected to make similar announcements regarding other national monuments. Whether it’s shrinking them in size or opening them up to commercial activities like mining and logging, the majority loses.
President Trump’s shrinking of our national monuments isn’t what the majority of the public wants, it’s not what the local communities want and it doesn’t make economic sense. Not to mention that it threatens our nation’s cultural and outdoor heritage.
We have a responsibility to protect these special places. Its impact is felt in our wallets, in our cultural identity, in our nation’s story, in our environment and in the legacy we leave for our children and grandchildren. This isn’t hyperbole, it’s our moral obligation.