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Groups, Tribes Battle Trump's Plan to Develop Utah Monuments

A Trump administration plan could open up parts of the fragile Grand Staircase-Escalante (above) and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah to drilling, mining and grazing in 2021. (dhayes/AdobeStock)
A Trump administration plan could open up parts of the fragile Grand Staircase-Escalante (above) and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah to drilling, mining and grazing in 2021. (dhayes/AdobeStock)
February 10, 2020

MONTICELLO, Utah -- Advocacy groups are upset -- though not surprised -- by the Trump administration's plan to open up almost 1 million acres of public lands in Utah for development. The Bureau of Land Management last week announced a plan to lease lands that were part of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to mineral development, mining and recreational interests, starting in 2021.

The move angered both tribal groups and conservationists, who have been fighting the move since President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 reducing the protected portions of the two monuments. Steve Bloch, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the plan confirms their worst fears about the government's intentions.

"We're incredibly disappointed with the results," Bloch said. "Plans prioritize energy development and extractive use, motorized-vehicle use throughout the majority of the lands that have been excluded from national monument status."

The plan is supported in Utah by the governor, both U.S. senators and a majority of the state Legislature. The BLM has said they're confident they can both manage development on the public lands and protect the environment.

Shortly after the 2017 directive, an alliance of conservation organizations along with five Native American tribes sued the federal government to reverse the president's order. Bloch said the case still is in litigation, but by the time it is resolved, permanent damage could already be done.

"The plans are going to result in the widespread destruction of many of the cultural and paleontological resources that make those monuments so important," he said.

Bloch said the Bears Ears monument contains tens of thousands of cultural artifacts and rare rock art, while the rock layers of Grand Staircase have yielded 75 million-year-old dinosaur fossils. He said they will continue to work to block development interests from destroying the area's treasures.

"These plans are not going to be the final chapter for the management of these remarkable federal public lands," Bloch said. "We're confident that the litigation that we've brought will be successful, that the president's attack on the monuments was illegal and that the monuments will be fully restored."

Bloch added the BLM proposal won't become final until Oct. 1, and he hopes his group's lawsuit will prevail in time to keep the administration from carrying out the plan.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT