THE BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT this month revealed plans for the huge tracts of land President Trump removed from two major Utah national monuments. They include the prospect of new coal, oil and gas development on nearly 700,000 previously protected acres, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. This was sadly unsurprising: The Interior Department inadvertently released documents in July suggesting that officials who are supposed to care for the federal government’s precious lands accentuated the benefits and played down the harms of removing millions of acres from national monuments.
The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reported that “estimates of increased tourism revenue, analyses showing that existing restrictions had not hurt fishing operators and agency reports finding that less vandalism occurred as a result of monument designations were all set aside.”
One email showed a senior staffer pressing to ignore evidence suggesting that the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument did not make fishing substantially more difficult because it “undercuts the case for the ban being harmful.” Another email showed that Interior officials were clearly told that creating Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument did not hurt timber production, since the Obama administration, which designated the monument, had carefully allowed for reasonable continued use of the land, including for timber.
Interior Department reviewers appear to have been keenly interested in the potential for the economic exploitation of protected lands. One noted that the department’s analyses on various sites contained material on “our ability to estimate the value of energy and/or minerals forgone as a result of the designations.” Another specifically inquired about logging potential in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which President Barack Obama expanded. “Previous timber sale planning and development in the [expansion area] can be immediately resumed,” the reviewer wrote.
Large cuts to major national monuments appear never to have been in doubt. Indeed, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended substantial reductions to national monuments across the country, reductions that President Trump claims he can make unilaterally under the American Antiquities Act of 1906. Environmental groups challenge that claim, but they will have a hard time winning their case, because the act gives the president wide discretion. Mr. Trump traveled to Salt Lake City last year to publicly withdraw 2 million acres of land from the two national monuments in southern Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where the BLM has now proposed development plans.
Grand Staircase, which holds a priceless geological record of the continent’s ancient past in its cliffs, canyons and striking red rock, has been spared coal mining and other indignities since President Bill Clinton protected it. Bears Ears contains spectacular scenery and untold numbers of archaeological treasures, the profusion of which is not wholly known, and deserved to be protected well before Mr. Obama’s second term, when it finally gained monument status.
These unique, irreplaceable sites deserve better than the Trump administration’s determined campaign to abolish environmental protections.