You read that right. The president can cut national monuments at his discretion, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s recent decision to reduce Utah’s two national monuments by considerable proportions. If you thought the Antiquities Act granted landmarks such as Bears Ear and the Grand Staircase Monument special protection against governmental interference, think again.
Although public outcries from groups including the Native American community proclaim Trump’s decision an act of illegality, the president is moving forward in his decision to slash Utah’s landmarks by a remarkable two million acres — the most extensive monumental cutback in the United States’ history.
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A Brief History of Bears Ear and the Grand Staircase Monument
If you’re unfamiliar with Utah’s two infamous monuments, a brief understanding of their history will help you realize what sparked this recent debate.
Both the Bears Ear and Grand Staircase monument grant the general public access to the plants and wildlife within the surrounding area. The Bears Ear National Monument also provides tribal access to a sacred land that various tribes from the Native American community access daily.
In 2016, former President Obama declared Bears Ear a national monument to further preserve and guarantee Native American access to the Utah terrain. The Grand Staircase was similarly established as a protected site in 1996 to protect the land from unwanted damage and pollution. However, much of the controversy surrounding this monument states that the 1.3 million acres of size prevent the poverty-stricken area from accessing the land for more productive measures.
With Trump’s recent decision to slash Utah’s monuments by nearly two million acres, the future of Bears Ear and the Grand Stair Monument remains uncertain.
What You Need to Know About the Antiquities Act
The Antiquities Act dates back over nearly a century to when President Teddy Roosevelt first passed the bill in 1906. When Roosevelt first signed this bill, his priority centered on protecting the Native Americans from losing the land they hold sacred to their culture.
This act grants the president power to mark designated natural areas and monuments into conservation units. As a result, the act aims to extend the protection of the land for public interest and protected use.
Many claim Trump’s decision to cut Utah’s preserved land as an unreasonable breach of power based on the details outlined in the Antiquities Act which warrant conservation. However, President Trump’s decision to cut Bear Ears aligns with the Antiquities Act declaration that the President should protect national monuments while utilizing the least expanse of land.
The Antiquities Act leaves a gray area that does not explicitly state Trump cannot cut these significant sites into smaller proportions. In fact, various presidents who preceded Trump decreased the amount of land allotted to these landmarks, too. However, prior presidents made minor cuts to the nation’s protected areas. Trump’s decision to reduce Utah’s monuments by several million acres is the most substantial cut the country has yet to experience.
Understanding the Acts Set by Predecessor Presidents
Even if the Antiquities Act explicitly stated that future presidents could not legally reduce national monuments or alter protected land such as Bears Ear and the Grand Staircase Movement, Trump’s decision may still have held some ground.
Current and future presidents are permitted to override specific acts established by prior officials. Even though Teddy Roosevelt passed this bill in the early twentieth century, that doesn’t mean all of his successors must abide by his every decree.
If every individual following Roosevelt had to adhere to the principles he established during his presidency, this sense of authority would forever grant Roosevelt power ever after his time in office. No policy is guaranteed a lifetime of use because laws must alter and change to accommodate the nation’s ever-changing societal demands and needs.
While many may protest and disagree with Trump’s recent decisions, his choice to cut Utah’s land still falls within the realm of legal abidance. Political choices that were once upheld by those in office before him can change at any point in time. The same rule of thumb applies to Trump’s future successors, who may have the power to follow — or undo — several of the policies he himself establishes during his time in office.
How Trump Claims to Improve Utah’s Community
Rather than harming the Native American community’s access to these national lands, Trump believes his decision will assist them. When making remarks on the Antiquities Act Designations, President Trump voiced that the new overturn of this bill will allow Natives to have a newfound voice in the land.
Although the president claims to have made his decision with the indigenous population in mind, various Native American tribes took the initiative in suing Trump to voice their discontent.
What Trump’s Cut Means for the Future of Archaeological and National Sites
Parks and environmental displays, such as Utah’s highly debated monuments, offer everyday citizens the ability to explore their natural surroundings in a protected environment. As the number of archaeological sites shrinks, what will become of our ability to connect to the natural environment?
Unfortunately, the president’s decision to cut back Utah’s monuments by drastic proportions may be the first warning of what’s still to come. The possibility that other states will experience monumental reduction is an increasing probability. This equates to not only less monumental access in Utah but in the nation as a whole.
The Dangers of Making National Monuments into Public Land
Once areas such as Bears Ear National and the Grand Staircase monuments become federally owned, their protection seems to falter.
One of the major threats toward formerly protected lands is the change in legal ownership. The ownership shifts toward the federal government, who could easily decide to place these lands under potentially dangerous acts ruining the natural wildlife and plants.
Protestors who disagree with Trump’s decision fear Bear Ears and the Grand Staircase monument are now open to prospective mining, oil drilling and building establishments. As federal property, these lands lose their protection against environmental damage that they formally possessed.
While Trump proclaims to have the people of Utah in mind, the future of these two historically significant areas remains up in the air.