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Western Democratic Senators Tell Trump: Don’t Reverse National Monument Designations

Apr 12, 2017

Commentary: Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall led a group of Western Democratic senators in calling on President Donald Trump to live up to his repeated promises on the campaign trail to protect public lands for all Americans and uphold the existing protections for the 157 national monuments, which have been designated throughout the decades by nearly every U.S. president of the last century.

Credit Office of US Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)

In particular, the senators warned President Trump against reversing the recent designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah, an unprecedented step that some congressional Republicans have urged the president to take. In their letter, the senators noted that Bears Ears enjoys strong support from the $646 billion outdoor recreation industry, as well as from Tribes, archaeologists, and local conservation organizations. The senators wrote that Tribes with ancestral ties to the Bears Ears region joined forces to protect sacred areas, and that is part of the reason that Bears Ears was designated as the first-ever national monument to be co-managed by Tribes. Rescinding protections for Bears Ears would betray the core commitments that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has made to Tribes and that President Trump made to voters, the senators added.

"Weakening the protections for this deserving landscape [Bears Ears National Monument], or any of the 157 Monuments previously protected, would be a direct affront to the local communities and stakeholders who worked collaboratively to identify and advocated to protect these areas for future generations. This is especially true, in the case of Bears Ears National Monument, for the Native American tribes who call this living cultural landscape their ancestral home. It also would cut against your commitment to be a good steward of our nation’s public lands," the senators wrote. "We urge you to maintain the current protections so that our children and grandchildren can experience them with the same wonder we do today.”

They continued, "We urge you to honor your promise to be a great steward of our public lands by upholding the existing protections for the 157 National Monuments that have been designated through the years by nearly every President since the Antiquities Act was enacted into law in 1906. They have protected iconic landscapes across the United States, such as the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and Olympic National Park in Washington, as well as cultural icons, including the Statue of Liberty and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality Monument. Removing protections for any of these areas would threaten the cultural, historical and biological wealth of our country.”

In addition to Udall, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

Dear Mr. President,

During your campaign, you stated that America’s protected federal public lands make America great, once stating that, “We have to be great stewards of this land.  This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”  You promised that, if elected, you’d emulate President Teddy Roosevelt’s efforts to protect public lands for all Americans.  During his confirmation hearing, Interior Secretary Zinke reaffirmed your Administration’s commitment to President Roosevelt’s conservation vision.  Unfortunately, some members of Congress do not share that commitment to conservation and are calling for the repeal of National Monument designations using a never-tested and questionable legal theory.

We urge you to honor your promise to be a great steward of our public lands by upholding the existing protections for the 157 National Monuments that have been designated through the years by nearly every President since the Antiquities Act was enacted into law in 1906.  They have protected iconic landscapes across the United States, such as the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and Olympic National Park in Washington, as well as cultural icons, including the Statue of Liberty and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality Monument.  Removing protections for any of these areas would threaten the cultural, historical and biological wealth of our country.

In particular, we urge you to reject calls to rescind protections for the Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah.  This area contains thousands of archeological and Native American sacred sites currently threatened by looting and vandalism.  Notably, this designation represents the first time in which two federal agencies will jointly manage a National Monument along with a commission of elected tribal leaders.  For the first time, the designation allows tribal co-management of the Monument—a strong move toward tribal self-determination.  Despite the claims of some, there is wide tribal, regional and national support for maintaining protection for Bears Ears.  Outdoor recreationists, who drive a $646 billion industry, tribes, archeologists, and local conservation organizations all support the Bears Ears designation.

Most notably, after working individually for decades, the tribes with ancestral ties in this region—the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Zuni—joined forces to protect Bears Ears and ensure these sacred areas are maintained for future generations.  In addition, six of the seven Navajo Chapter Houses in Utah supported the designation, as did the Tri-Ute Council, the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, the Utah Navajo Commission, the National Congress of American Indians, and 25 additional tribes, including many in our home states.  This designation culminated more than 80 years of efforts to protect the Bears Ears region.  Changes to the designation would strike at the core of the commitments Secretary Zinke has promised tribes.

Weakening the protections for this deserving landscape, or any of the 157 Monuments previously protected, would be a direct affront to the local communities and stakeholders who worked collaboratively to identify and advocated to protect these areas for future generations.  This is especially true, in the case of Bears Ears National Monument, for the Native American tribes who call this living cultural landscape their ancestral home.  It also would cut against your commitment to be a good steward of our nation’s public lands.  We urge you to maintain the current protections so that our children and grandchildren can experience them with the same wonder we do today.