Indigenous rights groups and environmental advocates were among thousands of people who gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday to greet President Donald Trump with a demonstration against his decision to shrink two of the state’s national monuments, opening the land to oil and gas companies which hope to mine the natural resources there.
With Trump’s announcement, Bears Ears National Monument will be reduced by about 85 percent while Grand Staircase-Escalante will become about 46 percent smaller.
“He is completely disregarding the will of the people and selling off the land to the highest bidder for fossil fuel interests,” Suzanne Attix, a Utah resident, told the Salt Lake Tribune on Monday.
“It’s an insult to native people who hold this land sacred and out of step with the vast majority of Americans who want these monuments protected.”—Valerie Love
The public outcry against the Trump administration’s expected plans to reduce the monuments has gone on for months, with 2.8 million Americans leaving comments at the Interior Department’s website urging officials to protect the land.
“There’s a powerful, unified national uprising to defend our public lands,” said Valerie Love, deputy organizing director for Ignite Change, a grassroots network affiliated with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump and corporate polluters need to keep their hands off our public lands. These are irreplaceable natural and cultural treasures. They belong to everyone.”
President Barack Obama’s decision to name Bears Ears, a 1.3 million acre spread of land in southern Utah, a national monument in December 2016 gave protection to a region that had been inhabited by five Native American tribes. The Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and two Ute tribes lobbied for federal protection of the land for years before Obama’s announcement.
In Trump’s speech on Monday, he said his decision to shrink the monuments was made in the interest of giving the land back to the people of Utah.
“It’s an insult to native people who hold this land sacred and out of step with the vast majority of Americans who want these monuments protected,” said Love.
In addition to dismissing the concerns of Indigenous people whose ancestors have lived on the land for hundreds if not thousands of years, the reasoning the president offered for shrinking the monuments left out the fossil fuel industry and other commercial interests that are expected to take advantage of the land now that its open to their use. There are nearly two dozen federal oil and gas leases in Bears Ears National Monument which companies will now be able to use for drilling.
Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell wrote in the Guardian that the attack on the public lands has economic implications as well as environmental ones. “President Trump’s action will amount to the largest rollback of protections for public lands and waters in U.S. history. It will ignore the 2.8 million Americans who have spoken out in defense of these public lands, and will undercut the jobs and revenues they bring to local economies from outdoor recreation and tourism.”
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