by Thomas Hochman
The Dig’s mission has always been to report on school-related issues that it feels are most pertinent to the student body, often opting to leave politics to markedly less prestigious publications like the New York Times or the Washington Post.
With that said, the recent move by the Trump administration to “downsize” the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments (by 85%, in the case of Bears Ears) for the sake of opening the area to drilling, logging, and mining is one that should be rejected by both sides of the political aisle.
And the argument for the conservation of the two Monuments doesn’t need to rest on moral or environmental grounds, either.
In a speech at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, President Trump said that gutting public lands would support the local economy and take the control out of the hands of “some very distant bureaucrats in Washington,” suggesting that the decision would benefit those living near the Monuments.
But that’s not true. Protected lands are a proven economic driver in Utah. The economies in communities around the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument have continually grown since the area was first protected in 1996. Just from 2000 to 2015, the local communities saw jobs grow by 24%, real income grew by 34%, and per capita income grew by 17%.
Not only do protected public lands power an $887 billion outdoor economy and support 7.6 million jobs, but these areas also significantly boost the economies of communities nearby. Studies show that rural areas in the West close to protected federal lands perform better on average than areas without protected federal lands in a variety of economic measures.
And it’s not like the decision comes by popular opinion. Analysis of over 600,000 comments posted to regulations.gov regarding America’s national monuments found overwhelming support for their preservation and protection.
According to The Center for Western Priorities, 98 percent of said comments expressed support for keeping or expanding national monument designations. And as for the residents of Utah that Trump suggests favor his decision? A wildly underwhelming 10 percent of them support the downsizing of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will no longer exist, as the “redrawing” of the monuments’ borders will split them both in two, leaving two tiny remnants of the original conservation land in their place.
The environmental implications are innumerable.
The same can be said for Native American tribes living nearby, with a first-of-its-kind alliance between the Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian, Zuni, and Navajo Nation forming the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to protest the administration’s move for a great number of reasons — the preservation of cultural heritage, access to resources, and the right to clean air and water chief among them.
There seems to be little reason for Trump, along with Utah senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, to move forward with this decision. But there’s plenty of incentive for the three of them, with the fossil fuel industry donating 1.1 million dollars to the Trump campaign, and $250,000 and $470,000 to Lee and Hatch, respectively. What they’ve framed as a victory for state rights could seemingly be more accurately described as a defeat for, well, just about everyone.
The American National Park system preserves our heritage, protects our environment, creates jobs, and conserves some of our country’s most beautiful and inspiring places. And this move by the current administration is bigger than just Bears Ears or Grand Staircase-Escalante. Secretary of the Interior Zinke has already moved forward to propose the further rescinding of other conservation areas.
This is an issue that deserves our attention, regardless of political affiliation. Facts are not partisan.
Thanks for reading.