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Congress Questions Trump Administration's National Monument Policy

Bureau of Land Management

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee had a hearing recently on the Trump administration's moves to shrink national monuments and clear the way for mining and drilling.

Dan Hartinger, national monuments campaign director with The Wilderness Society, says a significant number of Coloradans cherish public lands in neighboring Utah for recreation and tourism, especially Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, and he hopes the committee will get to the bottom of why protections were removed.

"Against the express wishes of millions of Americans who took the time to submit comments, of which 99 percent of them opposed these reductions,” says Hartinger. “This was about lining the pocket of special interests in drilling, mining and other extractive industries."

Reports from July of last year revealed over a dozen mining claims within the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. Some Utah politicians feel the two monuments' boundaries were larger than necessary, and the Trump administration has made removing barriers to fossil-fuel production a priority in its effort to achieve what it calls 'energy dominance.'

Nicole Croft, executive director of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, says the abundance of resources on the grounds of both national monument sites should warrant protections.

"There are over 700 significant paleontological sites that were cut out of the monument, says Croft. “And for a landscape that was set aside for conservation, to see it stripped so gratuitously of those protections is very alarming and concerning."

And since Bears Ears was the first national monument to receive protections at the request of tribal governments, Ani Kame'enui – director of legislation and policy for the National Parks Conservation Association – says the changes have put tribal sovereignty at risk.

She says the committee needs to hear from people who were passed over in the review process.

"The witness list includes a number of tribal representatives,” says Kame'enui. “One of the great things about the way that they have formatted the hearing is creating panels that really recognize the governmental role that tribal communities in this area should and ought to have."

There are five lawsuits challenging the Trump administration's actions under the Antiquities Act, and legislation has been introduced in Congress to restore national monument protections.

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