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

Feb 11, 2020

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.
Credit dhayes/AdobeStock

The Trump administration announced plans last week to permit drilling, mining and grazing in southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments beginning in 202. Conservationists and Native American tribes are fighting in federal court to block the government's plan.

These entities have been fighting the move since President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 reducing the protected portions of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. 

"We're incredibly disappointed with the result. Plans prioritize energy development and extractive use, motorized-vehicle use throughout the majority of the lands that have been excluded from national monument status,” said Steve Bloch, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Many of Utah’s lawmakers, including Governor Gary Herbert and Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, support the plan. The Bureau of Land Management’s said it is confident it can both protect the environment and manage development. 

Shortly after the 2017 directive, multiple conservation groups and Native American tribes sued the federal government to reverse the order. Bloch said the case still is in litigation, and that permanent damage could be done before it is resolved.

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 his group 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. We're confident that the litigation that we've brought will be successful, that the president's attacks on the monuments were illegal and that the monuments will be fully restored,” Bloch said.

Bloch added that 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.