Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Bears Ears Reversal

Photo: Tim Peterson, Grand Canyon Trust
A week after insulting Navajo veterans of World War II -- the code talkers who helped to win the war in the Pacific -- under a portrait of the odious Andrew Jackson, the president of the United States announced the unprecedented removal of National Monument status from over 1,000,000 acres of land in Utah whose protection had been sought by Navajo and other tribes. Fortunately, the United States does still have three branches of government, and it is possible that a Federal court will agree that that the Antiquities Act does not give a president this authority.

Still, as widely reported yesterday, the president is asserting just such authority in Utah, and if successful he may try to do the same in many other states, though not in Montana.

In the NPR report above, Matt Anderson argues that President Obama's naming of the Bears Ears National Monument had itself been overreach, and that reverting to BLM status would keep "the areas open and accessible to locals who depend on this land for their daily lives." The image he hopes to convey is of family farmers grazing animals on highly-regulated rangelands, but it cannot be denied that coal, oil, and natural gas leases would also be made possible if yesterday's decision is upheld.

Without sensing the irony of their own claims, some opponents argue that indigenous opponents of the rollback are located far away, and that local, non-indigenous voices should have priority. The displacement of native people from their land is thus used as an argument against their standing to discuss it.

Later on Monday, All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly spoke with Ute Indian Shaun Chapoose about Native American responses to the announcement.

The reversal of federal protection is unprecedented -- with the 1,300,000-acre Monument reduced to just 228,000.
Map: State of Utah, by way of Grand Canyon Trust

Lagniappe: It Gets Worse

Immediately after seeing to the removal of 2,000,000 acres (an area bigger than Delaware) from these the National Monuments, Secretary Zinke urged the president to reduce the size of four more protected areas: Nevada's Gold Butte, the Cascade-Siskiyou of Oregon and California, the Pacific Remote Islands, and the Rose Atoll. The last of these is an area of protected marine resources covering an area larger than Massachusetts.
Next on the secretary's agenda: Cascade-Siskiyou.
In addition to unspecified reductions in the size of each of these monuments, the secretary recommends changing the way restrictions are enforced on all national monuments. Even if this attempt to rewrite of the Antiquities Act does not survive court challenges, it will waste countless hours of time -- and millions of dollars -- that environmental organizations and federal employees could be spending on actually protecting the environment.

Without any shame, the secretary declared that his recommendations reflect the will of the people, dismissing 2.8 million public comments that he admitted were mostly counter to his recommendation. By "the people" he meant those people he prefers to listen to, some of which are not actually people at all. He further continues to associate himself with the signer of the 1906 Act, Teddy Roosevelt. Again, without shame.

The same announcement includes expanded protection in Montana itself, where his political ambitions outweigh his general preference for environmental destruction.

UPDATE: Even Worse

It is with some hesitation I add even more bad news to this post, but new information about this decision is unsettling and needs to be shared. If the courts allow the executive order to stand, Bears Ears will be open not only to grazing, but also to the mining of uranium. This has nothing whatsoever to do with public use of the land; it has to do with pleasing political donors. A map of the uranium potential accompanies the story behind the president's decision.
Map: Washington Post
July 2018 further update

It is now clear that the documents used to justify the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument were selectively censored to hide known benefits of the protection the area had been receiving. Someone should be going to jail for this, but will more likely be going to the bank.

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