The dramatic curtailing of public lands by 1.15 million acres of almost all Bear Ears is not only unprecedented in scope, but reduces a national monument to a vestige and place-name: the “ears” themselves, two buttes, are isolated on the new map, as they rise across the horizon line, but suddenly stripped from their territory, and isolated as if re-mapped by GPS, without any sense of their historical context for the indigenous peoples who lived there after having been chased off traditional homelands. In creating two vastly reduced “monuments” out of 15% of the region, which were how re-named Shásh Jaa’ and Indian Creek, at a pen-stroke, evacuates President Obama’s decision to use the American Antiquities Act to preserve the region rich with historical ruins and its future integrity. While the array of archeological artifacts, rock art, natural monuments and national forests were announced in the original 2016 proposal for uniting a region between the Ute Tribe and Navajo tribal lands in southeastern Utah, it was a coup in protecting historical lands that considered the integrity of the monument. The current debate is the most recent manifestation of a real struggle around question of the governance and the administrations of public lands. In posing to defend undefined “local interests” against intrusive government, repeating the Reagan-era mantra that they stand in opposition with one another, deny the radical remapping of public lands that the Trump administration has decided to advocate.
The rewriting of the national monument’s boundaries constitutes an undoing that cannot be seen as an adjustment of its perimeter, but a breaking up of its heart. The proposed monument encompassed not only archeological ruins and fragile ecosystem, but what had been alternately designated as a “special tar sands area” by the Bureau of Land Management, quite controversially, and had been promoted to locals as an “energy zone” at a time when many pristine environments–from particularly devastating areas in the coal mined in tar sands in the old-growth boreal forests in Alberta, whose devastation has been documented in aerial photographs of Canadian aerial photographer Louis Helbig,in images of the environmental degradation strip mining of bitumen brought to a once-pristine region. Despite the promise of poorly defined “Energy Zone” in Utah, bordering the Bears Ears monument, economic benefits that have been promoted since 2015 by Utah’s legislature conceals the steep environmental risks allowing such extractive industries, given the laborious and uneconomical process of coal and uranium mining would create, if protections on the state and federal lands are lifted across the protected region–which would compromise not only its National Conservation Areas but an invaluable archeological and cultural patrimony, and the integrity of the region that the National Monument worked to keep; the “new” boundaries open access to almost all the underground .mineral deposits in both of the Utah National Monuments named by two Democratic presidents, as if to let the energy industry know that a new regime is in town, allowing the opening up of old uranium mines that encircle the Bears Ears national monument.
The radical rewriting of the national monument into conservation areas peels back the bridging of area around the buttes and the unique public lands arrangement that had been arrived at with local interests over time, but stands in contrast with the gold-tinged layer that the Utah legislature adopted, with few real reasons, but with the endorsement of the American Petroleum Institute, helped identify a poorly mapped “Energy Zone” lying on the east of Highway 191 which would be “streamlined” for quick development by the energy industry. The gold layer served as a counterweight to the Public Lands Initiative that advocated the creation of a single national monument, developed by a supermajority of residents with the twenty-five native tribes whose deep ancestral relation to the land. The democratic process of local land preservation would be overturned by the plans for “energy development” without a clear vision of the permanent consequences of such development for the land, or the alteration of a landscape that is not only among the most pristine in the west but densest with memory.
“Energy Zone” Created by Utah State Legislature in June 2015
Is this a step in the war against the memories of the relation to the land? The hope to imagine the preservation of a region whose canyons, ridges, mesa and basins are rich with artifacts was evident in the proposal to create a counterpart to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the current proposed curtailment by GPS clips a historical landscape to two vestiges of what have become highly politicized federal lands. Yet the currently proposed fragmentation of what seemed a groundbreaking advance in the management of native lands–joining members from five tribes with members of the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service, to recognize its identity as tribal lands and relation to a National Park–rejects a notion of land stewardship by resurrecting a battle between ‘locals’ and ‘big government.’ The “fake news” of such a loss of local interests would stand to permanently reconfigure the pristine open lands around the Four Corners region of the nation, in ways unable to be measured by the size of the original Monument, in ways disguised by debates about its boundary line. If all of these lands are–and will be–federal lands, the opening of these lands to federal leasing is what is at stake by the removing designation of the National Monuments, which would expose them to extractive industries. As the new boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante leave all coal in the region open to strip mining and extraction, and allow easier access to those areas lying just beyond the National Monument, the scaling back of both monuments seem to respond to directives of corporate lobbyists, from a uranium processing mill that sits outside Bears Ears to the American Petroleum Institute, representing firms who have purchased leases on sites within the monuments’ boundaries from the Bureau of Land Management, which did not evacuate them after the national monument was declared. The premium that the American Petroleum Institute places on the need to “recognize the importance of our nation’s energy infrastructure by restoring the rule of law in the permitting process” in the words of its CEO and President, Jack Gerard, prioritizes interests that were not addressed in hopes to rewrite the Bears Ears cultural landscape, and evacuate the conclusions of the local Public Lands Initiative (PLI) that resolved the many stakeholders’ interests in the pristine lands–and in the future of one of the largest open spaces in the American west. By recasting the monument’s creation as an act of “big government” that infringes on the land rights of local residents, the Secretary of the Interior has adopted the points of interest defined by extractive industries–the promise of oil; $11.4 billion tons of coal; and unspecified amounts of zirconium and uranium in the northeastern region of the Staircase Escalante–without the consultation of local tribes who hold the ancestral lands sacred, or indeed local communities. Indeed, the remapping of the region erases their historical significance, which it wipes from the map.
It is worse than a give-away, as their extraction would irreparably ruin the area under which they lie, if the quality of such deposits is often poor, and whose promise seems to have been magnified and poorly balanced against the costs of their extraction and the industries, pollution, and indeed toxic waste that this would bring to the region that seems likely to be converted to a Superfund site. Indeed, the proposed dismemberment of Bears Ears reveals a struggle between two forms of mapping of the region. One map attends to the cultural landscape and local ruins; the other privileges the “energy zone”introduced in the Utah legislature in 2015–and proposed by the American Petroleum Institute, who first vigorously called for reevaluating the Antiquities Act. While posing as the “local interests” of the region, they have advocated exploration and leasing of the 105,000 acres along the eastern edge of the monument already claimed for prospective leasing by extractive industries–since 2013, claims that run across the designated National Monument, and whose leasing and examination would bring the construction of roads, equipment, rigs, industriaworkers, and mining plants on the border of the current National Monument–and have already been auctioned to firms like Hoover & Stacy and Kirkwood Oil and Gas, per public record, or other energy firms.
Such claims in line with Donald Trump’s America First Energy policy should not hide the even greater presence of uranium, and its presence among the “precious natural minerals” that Trump seeks to value above the cultural value of the monument during his appearance in Utah: the slightly coded reference to claims of the same company running the last uranium mill in the United States which is located outside the monument, Energy Fuel Resources, who have also targeted uranium reserves in the Grand Canyon region. (Fuel Resources have tried to reopen sites in the Grand Canyon that they earlier ran, prevented in courts by the Havasupai tribe who have organized a campaign to stop mining in the Canyon. Work on the mine came to a halt again in March when the site began filling with water.) Indeed, the Grand Canyon Trust was concerned of possible pollution of aquifers from existing uranium mines, and would raise questions of the similar contamination of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers that would devastate western ecology near Navajo lands–as the mining would open the landscape of Bears Ears to levels pollution not only hypothetical, but evident in the landscape of the unregulated mining of uranium has already created the Grand Canyon.
Indeed, is it any coincidence that extractive industries of mining and mineral deposits specialize in a quite different form of subterranean mapping, isolating unseen underground wealth from a landscape while spending less attention to visible markers or history? The Bears Ears uranium deposits–a subject now on Trump’s mind, perhaps, if for the wrong reasons–have made the monument appealing site to allow extractive industries now prevented from working on National Monuments, many of whom have already staked claims in prospecting maps of what is cast in code words as “valuable energy and mineral resources.” But is the leasing of federal lands–whose monumental value is evident in the unprecedented wealth of archeological ruins and old-growth forest an the start of the San Juan river–able to be sacrificed for what lies underground? Or is it that the mapping of the underground minerals have somehow, in a circuitously evil fashion, come to replace the image of the lands before our eyes? If so, the costs of such a substitution are not only high, but suggest a massive act of deception and abuse of public trust on the scale of which we haven’t seen for some time.
Salt Lake Tribune/source: Oil Wells , Utah Department of Natural Resources, Oil, Gas, and Mining Division. Uranium & Mineral Deposits , Utah Geological Survey
It is hardly a coincidence that the American Petroleum Institute first concentrations asked Trump’s administration to “re-examine the role and purpose of the Antiquities Act,” in a way that targeted the legislation that Obama had used. Rather than change the purpose of the Act, however, the Trump administration has sought to evacuate its meaning. Indeed, and ignore the preservation of sites of cultural wealth or significant. Indeed, the Secretary of the Interior seems to have replaced existing maps of the monument with the map of the infamous “energy zone” presented to the Utah legislature in 2015 that encouraged the Utah Bureau of Land Management to auction off parts of the region–a very broad brushstrokes data visualization, more suggestive of a buried treasure map, that entices the viewer by adding a layer colored suggestively in gold above the green topographic map of the region, which effectively superimposed economic over ecological rationales. Such a proposal was indeed a thorn in the side of the plan that local stakeholders sought to work out between 2013-15 in the potentially flawed Public Lands Initiative, but sought to start a legislative runaround to foreclose its role in the administration of public lands.
The map is an adequate metaphor of the blinders that the interests of extractive industries to target federal lands–and the Bears Ears monument–to access to what lies under it. Was existing GPS mapping of points of particular energy significance by companies who have auctioned claims from the Utah Bureau of Land Management the very basis for leaked maps from the Trump administration, whose curious form and the precision of whose UTM projection seem the fingerprints of existing interests of extractive industries? Were the plans for future prospecting and exploration by extractive industries the basis for the redrawing of the perimeter of the National Monument as two plots, removed from the sites of the greatest interest in energy exploration? The shrinking of the National Monument certainly suggests the prioritization of energy interests above the local cultural landscape.
To be sure, the maps prepared by extractive industries suggest the unprecedented scale of landscape modification at stake. For in defining the remapping of the lands as protected parcels, to prevent future disturbance or excavation, the act brought them into federal jurisdiction in ways that were widely portrayed as “governmental over-reach” that infringed on “local” claims to land use, as if it were a liberation from big government. Yet the clear desires of accessing what lies in the ground–as the coal fields that lie beneath the Grand Staircase Escalante–of which USGS had already determined some 11.4 billion tons were defined as able to be removed. If the preservation of the National Monument protected these mapped deposits from being accessed, the anger that they’ve created among extractive industries who have long lobbied for access to them, and recently heightened their efforts: the review of monuments was pushed heavily by Energy Fuel Resources, the uranium company, even though the price of uranium is far below what would make the mine profitable and coal mining would devastate the region’s pristine integrity, and most probably create it as a series of Superfund sites.
Proposed Reduction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
NASA, image of Grand Staircase-Escalante
1. Did not the unprecedented reclassification of the National Monument in fact represent an extension of claims to injure–if not destroy–the integrity of public lands? For while the rhetoric of liberation was used to describe the proposed redrawing of the National Monument’s boundaries, the new boundaries on Bears Ears seemed drawn only to allow increased access to underground mineral deposits and veins of coal. Indeed, the cursory shrinkage of this monument, redrawn from Washington, D.C. by the Department of the Interior with little consultation on the ground, save from the Utah Senators who were angered by the declaration of the monument during President Obama’s final term in office, removed many of the more precious archeological sites and sacred places on federal lands, and exposes them to potential leasing in ways that speaks volumes to two different visions of the relation of the office of the President to the land, if not the imposition of a form of GPS mapping, conducted offsite, without any actual assessment-as none has been completed–of the cultural resources in the declared National Monument.
Despite the rhetorical power of these maps, printed in The New York Times, the startling omission of the private interests of energy companies and extractive industries fail to provide a sense of the clear motivations behind the rapidly announced reduction of protected federal lands, and fail to map the future that we can expect the arrival of extractive industries eager to expand their operations into leased lands around the former National Monument. Indeed the acquisition of future oil fields, sites for uranium mining, and sites for coal mining, all leased by the Utah Bureau of Land Management, as well as seismic studies for future oil wells, stand as a nefarious proxy for the “local interests” that Zinke and Trump evoke. suggest that an intensive mapping of the area that the restricted boundaries of Bears Ears and the Escalante directly correspond–and the distance of these maps from knowledge of the site’s cultural legacies.
The huge reduction proposed to shift the levels of protection accorded the region is a blatant rewriting of land management policies, attacking what had been accepted as a new standard of local involvement with federal land conservation agencies. As much as provide a way to open coal veins to mining in close proximity to–and indeed within the footprint of the National Monument–they stand to allow the mining of fuels for the hauling of Uranium across the monument to the White Mesa Mill just six miles outside the monument, in the town of Blanding, Utah, whose activity stands to expand as the mining of uranium in nearby Grand Staircase-Escalatnte-Staircsae again. Even if the status of the monument did not close any roads, access to nature for camping, but only constrained off-trail driving. The proposed clipping of Bears Ears to a vestigial “units” of the buttes and one rock ridge would invite the reconsideration of leasing other lands, in ways that are indeed far more circumscribed than the Public Lands Initiative which preserved National Conservation Areas (shown in blue) and wilderness areas (shown in purple) within the Bears Ears National Monument.
But the redrawing of boundaries supersede agreements to protect the lands in a collaborative manner with Navajo and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, and indeed vacates their voice, as well as not incorporating lands rich which symbolic and archeological significance. In critical ways, the rapid redrawing of boundaries appear to have been drafted with little attention to the demands of landscape management, interests of local tribes, or the geographical integrity of the site or of its cultural and historical status. For the proposal would break up the historical unity of the monument that was created by the last Presidential administration definitively; the move to strip the lands of their designation as a national monument undoes the unprecedented recognition of the lands’ value that extend beyond historical or archeological reasons, but ignores its historical significance for native peoples who have long regarded it as a spiritual home.
The proposed remapping of its boundaries undoes its integrity, by opening areas of the National Monument as property that the government can lease, undermining its cultural and historical value in ways that sets a precedent of reclassification that stands to threaten all public lands–as they stake a challenge to redraw the boundaries of federal lands to facilitate their leasing in ways that would forever compromise local landscapes. Indeed, the UTM projection that proposed to dismember Bears Ears as a monument was drafted offsite, in Washington, DC, with attention to the recent 2017 evaluations of the density of mining resources within and on the side of the current National Monument—-as if to prepare for mining claims in the wilderness preserve, from the American Petroleum Institute, Energy Fuel Resources, and energy corporations like Kirkwood Oil and Gas, who leased areas near the monument from 2013, and the Wyoming firm Hoover & Stacy, who have leased four parcels in Bears Ears in 2015 from the Utah Bureau of Land Management, lying just outside the Monument–and other energy companies who have requested leases on or near the same public land. (Kirkwood long chafed under the Obama era regulations against methane leaks; Energy Fuel Resources is eager to expand production and urging the rolling back of mining moratoria, after Obama Interior Secretary Salazar stopped uranium mining in the Grand Canyon in 2012; Hoover & Stacy have made over twenty bids on public lands in Utah and Wyoming, as have Kirkwood in Nevada and Wyoming.
2. Such a broad evacuation of the monument’s designation would rob it of its historical and archeological as well as its deep significance and shared cultural meaning as a place, denying what was long understood as unique. While the Antiquities Act punishes any act appropriating lands designated such status without permission of the Secretary of the Interior, the remapping of lands as parcels that can be leased by government seems designed to grant extractive industries entry into the area in a single predatory fell swoop of his pen, using the executive order to foreclose the commons of the formerly open west for private interests. Despite recent calls for retiring the Antiquities Act, dismissed as the result of academic lobbying alone, the mandate for historical preservation needs to be redefined and expanded to include the endangerment of ecological fragility. Indeed, the very GPS tools used for remapping the boundaries of such monuments paradoxically works to erase any sense of their historical or cultural value, treating their boundaries as land parcels stripped of cultural or historical value. The very tools of GPS help to trump local knowledge, and indeed to impose a new design on a landscape filled with archeological ruins and significance, whose survival is deeply tied to its remove from development, The mapping of new boundaries will break up a complex territory.
For by remapping a region filled with historical markers of its inhabitation, and recognition of its spectacular majesty, the redesignation of Bears Ears would fundamentally and irrevocably change it as a place–and treat it as yet another fungible parcel of property by a President who seems to understand his role as Realtor in Chief. President Obama’s recent but timely designation of the National Monument as a national monument raised the level of land management and standards of preservation of the area around Bears Ears for future generations. In preserving a cluster of lands of deep historical and spiritual experience, the declaration reflected consideration of the density of ruins as worthy of protection of historical and scientific interest has provoked calls for retiring the Antiquities Act. and President Donald J. Trump seems intent to grant entry into archeological sites and recreational spots, and indeed on giving away a historic and very delicate part of the western landscape: indeed, by remapping the same parcels recently status by public proclamation as parcels to be readily leased, and open to excavation in ways that will disturb their historical fabric. Although courts have resisted any “prob[ing] the reasoning which underlies” designating national monuments as a form of intruding on executive decisions or the legislative process, the invitation that Donald Trump made to his Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, to remap federal lands as public properties reveals an overreach from Washington using GPS serves to shift judgement of the value of federal lands from their historical or cultural grounds.
Alex Goodlett for The New York Times
Is there a way that the very mapping tools used to revise such monuments’ boundaries works to remove them from grounds for judging their historical value or legacy? By aggressively reducing the borders of the former National Monument, lined below in black, carving two small patches of quite unnatural compact size out of a broad complex. While the monument is closely located nearby the Canyons of the Ancients, Mesa Verde National Park, and San Juan National Forest. Increasingly, and even at a short distance of time, the threatened loss of Bears Ears seems not only a desecration of the commons, but a metonym for the abandonment of public lands to private interests, and the break-up of a contiguous set of public lands that was once defined by the scale of its integrity–the National Monument was among the top 10% of regions of such size in the West for ecological intactness and connectivity, and the severing of its regions into two separate monuments will not only decrease their monumentality.
But it will also definitively compromise their unique value as a coherent historical landscape: the break-up will challenge both the landscape conservation of the region that has been achieved, and the biodiversity of an especially fragile ecosystem. This is not only about monuments, but about rewriting the landscape. The arrival of any sort of industry in an area which was classified as being in the 4% of greatest stellar visibility–an extremely low light pollution–would irreversibly compromise its uniqueness as a region as expanding light pollution–as well as inevitable environmental pollution–would compromise the historical status of its ecosystem. While deemed an environmental regulation concealed within the preservation of a National Monument, we might well consider the need to redefine the meaning of a National Monument to include a broader compass and more ethical standards of land management than when it was framed in 1906–and indeed standards that would take into account the new dangers and environmental stresses that extractive mining or strip mining place on historical lands–rather than fetishizing the isolated points.
3. The extent such an unprecedented act of reducing a National Monument cannot be counted in acreage, or even made visible on a map. For it stands to entire rewrite the landscape and the ecosystem of which it is part in ways that we cannot fully measure, as we are essentially inviting development up to the limits of the current proposed boundaries–even permitting the leasing of land between the two rumps of the Bear Ears National Monument that now stands. Indeed, the ability to map at a remove of its landscape–despite Secretary Zinke’s earlier promise to visit the region–suggests a sort of blind mapping, at a remove of the landscape, of the sort that GPS can allow, and transforms the status of a National Monument–a designation that is quite thought out and was explained in detail when it occurred–as a fungible piece of realty in ways we could only be able to expect from Donald Trump’s Presidency. The prospect of opening the ecologically intact region to leasing would end the environment–the character–of the place which was declared a National Monument, and not only awe-inspiring but sacred to many, as well as a site of historical inhabitation whose wealth demands to be defended by the government–not squandered. The proposed restriction of the monument to vestigial outposts robs it of not only of archeological sites in need of preservation under the guise of “restoring” it to states, but revises claims to preserve the common or historical area of the monument. The unclear status of the Wilderness Areas that had once expanded beyond the National Monument of Natural Bridges over a broad area is no longer permanently protected; the vestiges would be far removed from the headwaters of the Colorado River, and set a dangerous precedent for altering land management policies in complex ways for unstated reasons, but whose exposure of coal veins and future possibilities of prospecting will damage its integrity in due time.
Donald Trump famously enjoys thinking in terms of monuments and monumentalization, and even hopes that the proposed Border Wall between the United States and Mexico might be named after him. The reclassification of the national monument had never been attempted, even by a President; the request to review the status of national monuments recently designated by the Antiquities Act we perhaps had better taken stock of the potential consequences of requesting such a review, as it seemed to elevate the power of the Secretary of the Interior to undertake a housekeeping of lands named by Presidential authority that had been characterized polemically as “land grabs” of unilateral nature, denigrating the motivations behind their designation outside of any process of review that would not be interior to the executive–or able to be accomplished by an executive order, Trump’s favored means of public communication.
Such unprecedented revoking or the status of a monumentquintessential Trumpian fashion. For not only does the practice remove sites of cultural wealth and natural beauty from protection, but erases their preservation as a region next to adjacent Navajo lands, often not even noted on most maps of Bears Ears. The precedent that this offers for actually revising the boundaries of National Monuments–as if this were a means of keeping house–disguises the reconfiguration of a territory that was designated to be preserved for its unalienable value to the nation, and converts it to real estate that might be leased to the greatest bidder, and whose underlying mineral or gas resources are sufficient to lead us to a path of greater energy independence.
Remapping the delicate complex system of ruins by 202,000 acres so radically might be best understood as a breakup than a simply “revising”their boundaries–the intentionally vague recommendations Zinke issued as recommendations for the future of six national monuments in the early fall that stand to alter practices of land conservation in the American West. Indeed, by removing the Cedar Mesa and Elk Ridge landscapes from the status of a national monument, the landscape will no longer be coherent. Those regions subject to robbery, theft and looting each year, per the Native American Rights Fund, will once again be exposed to vandalism, and lack integrity within a particularly delicate landscape and ecosystem. The recent concentration on a single Navajo claim–using the Navajo name for Bears Ears–Shash Jaa–includes the impressive Bears Ears Buttes themselves, parts of the Mule and Arch canyons, and the Doll House and Moon House ruins–previously been designated monuments but which Obama had singled out for preservation as sites of “objects of historic and scientific interest”–and the very oldest archeological site in Utah, but excluding the region known as Valley of the Gods, Glen Canyon, in radically disjoined regions that seemed mapped by satellite in Washington.
Anasazi grinding rock in canyon along Elk Ridge included in Bears Ears National Monument, proposed to be managed by USFS (Al Hartmann/Salt Lake City Tribune)
The Moon House Ruins in Bears Ears, to be given to the Bureau of Land Management
The ruggedness of the lands here is not clear from the map, but few familiar with the site can make sense of its new divisions as a monument, which rather than connect sites and spaces break up a formerly integrated unit of land management, using tools of mapping that seem to take pleasure in opening up the largest possible land for leasing. Even if there aren’t reported gas and oil resources in Bears Ears, the cutting up of the monument would set a precedent for relinquishing responsibility of land management and seems designed to allow the expansion of exploration of the Plateaux’s coal seams, evident in the significant regions proposed to be removed from monumental status.
The evacuation of the status of a Monument was performed by a President acting as lord of the domain, or sole property owner of a region, even if the concept of land management was carefully refined over time. Indeed, it serves to place as much land on the market for future prospecting, under the presence of its liberation. The location of a considerable amount of the mineral resources, quite predictably, precisely between the two new, reduced monuments–and immediately outside the park. The high risks to mineral development–in the seventieth percentile of similarly sized regions of the American west–measures the almost magnetic attraction of the region to extractive industries, and only starts to suggest the dangers not only to the local ecosystem but potentially to the groundwater and headwaters of the Colorado River.
–suggests exactly where such drilling will occur, and why the edges of the park are themselves eroded in irregular ways allow its mineral resources to be accessed. The resulting fragmentation of the lands’ boundaries will bring by the arrival of prospecting and an aggressive expansion of industry, in other words, and the irrevocable changing of the landscape as it now stands, suggesting not only a theft of land but an utter despoilment. The considerable concentration of resource potentials that are known both in the middle and on the eastern side of the National Monument–
–would only invite mining claims to arrive in an area whose coherence is preserved by its status as a National Monument–not a wilderness preserve. The density of such a mapping of potential resources in the same suggest the exact importance of creating such reduced national monuments focussed on areas of limited potential resources.
Indeed, the strong interest that extractive industries have shown in laying claim to the region, and their release from any obligation to give revenue from their prospecting to the state or nation, is mind-boggling as a give-away to special interests, as if Trump were readying to grant a Christmas present to the benefactor of his campaign or to the so that just outside of the newly proposed “Shash Jaa” Monument will be able to be sold and mined for coal, a deposit to which Trump’s ego and identity seems to have been closely tied: the leasing of lands for future extraction in the broken up National Monument will have been enabled by the exit from the Paris Accords, in other words, and seems designed to release greenhouse gasses in the long term, both from the coal mine methane released in the practice of mining, which has effects over twenty-fold more significant than carbon dioxide, as well as in the greenhouse gasses released in burning mined coal. The opening of the National Monument stands poised to be a gift to a coal industry that is not in itself money making, in other words, but which the Trump administration seems eager to subsidize by proposing the irrevocable give-away of a National Monument.
Although Zinke and Trump have both prepared a bucolic vision of the arrival of animal herders, the actual audience that stands to benefit from the redrawing of the boundaries of the monument is quite different, and far less local. Indeed, the clustering of old uranium mines around the targeted Bears Ears national monument, shifting from a data visualization to an image of former and proposed mines that would serve as sites to carry mined uranium to the White Mesa Uranium Mill, stand to disperse radioactive dust across the landscape, and constitute a veritable mini-industry of uranium production the stands to redefine the landscape of southeastern Utah around an energy market over much of the Colorado Plateau.
4. The expansion of Presidential authority to redraw federal lands, including canyons and gulches of astounding natural beauty, actual golden arches carved into the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau, including Anasazi areas in Elk Ridge, seems to undermine public lands protections. Giving the vestigial area a Navajo name seems to assign it importance only for one constituency–reducing the status of land protection to a question of balancing individual interests, rather than historical significance. It seems to follow suggestions of the Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, preserving prominent ruins as state monuments, but stands to reduce the remoteness as publicly protected lands, rewrite policies of federal land protection and open possibilities for their future parcelization, and the consequences that this would have on the region.
In claiming the role of a liberator who was able to roll back the limits of federally protected lands, under the legally dubious instrument of yet another executive order, President Trump staged the predesignation of Bears Ears as reduced perimeters of new “Shásh Jaa'” and “Indian Creek” monuments, quite misleadingly, as a defense of local interests. But presented as an action against the dangers big government, in a standard pitch of an old Republican party, it seems more like a land grab by Washington. Even if the declaration decidedly illuminates the increasingly transactional notion of the Trump presidency, shrinking the National Monument was cast as promoting needs of rural inhabitants, cleaving the nation yet again between the rural interior and coastal elites, in another Trump trope that has been returned to over the past year to portray him as a custodian of the common man. But rather than preserve these lands for grazing, pasture, or logging–industries that are not exactly booming, and would be pretty out of place in these arid plains. The targeting of Bears Ears cannot be seen as pure Trump, but reflect the earlier executive order that invited Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all national monument of an area greater than 100,000 acres. It undoes the preservation of lands established during the previous four administration, in the name of hoping to “end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States,” trying in any formulation to identify himself as a populist. But Zinke, eager to exploit hidden fossil fuel resources in national public lands that were placed off-limits since Teddy Roosevelt, has already gone further and proposed reducing two more National Monuments that are rich in mineral resources–Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou–although the proposed reductions in these other national monuments is not public, perhaps until the trial balloon of Bears Ears is fully processed.
Zinke earlier came up with a group of choices of monuments to reduce, but Trump may well have chosen the first, relishing the poetic justice of and carefully manipulating the possibility of some public support for dismantling one of Obama’s final hopeful actions. In doing so, as has been observed, President Trump proudly jettisoned recommendations of the Public Land Initiative maps made in Utah that the state keep the entire Cedar Mesa–the area of land rich with archeological ruins, and which is to be protected in large part as Wilderness Studies Areas, but seems increasingly vulnerable to pillaging. However, with the impunity of a GPS scalpel, that cannot register the region’s history, Trump has evaded the question of the rich historical legacy of the lands in carving out by unclear logic two isolated peaks as the sole vestiges tof what was once was championed as the legacy of the Obama presidency. Indeed, by isolating the two geological formation without the landscape of hidden canyons that surround the expansive area of preservation. In so doing, he has reduced whatever mandate of preservation Obama had bequeathed to one of far smaller scale, and discounted the heritage or cultural importance of the monument as a region and its historical legacy as well as a preserve of unquantifiable value.
The result would be to fragment the actual intention and achievement of naming the National Monument, as Trump must well know. Immediately after Obama declared his intent to use the Antiquities Act, Utah Senator Mike Lee had inveighed against the preservation of these land by executive fiat, which he argued overrode the will of the “people of Utah,” and revealed executive overreach. “This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand,” he claimed, vowing to “work tirelessly with Congress and the incoming Trump administration to honor the will of the people of Utah and undo this designation.” The rhetoric of undoing the designation of a monument, long in coming, was way overblown. During his confirmation hearings, Secretary Zinke, tried to give the appearance of tempering it when he assured Senators he would visit the monument at first hand, and would “talk to people on the ground” before he undertook to “make a recommendation to the President.” He famously rode a white horse to work on his first day, more for a photo op than to actually follow the preservationist agenda of Theodore Roosevelt. He seems to have come to the decision quite quickly.
Eliminating a region designated as a national monument is unprecedented, but was done so surgically that the landscape seems to have barely been taken into account. Despite the preservation of some of the most iconic parts of the monument in two monuments of enormously lesser size, there is no grander vision in the decision to preserve lands, as it only seeks to accommodate interests of industries that have no appreciation for the place or its contents: if the new boundaries would preserve the ancient petroglyphs on Newspaper Hill, they invite raiding of the most precious archeological sites, and show no concern for the canyons where the Navajo once, having been driven from native lands at the end of the Civil War on forced marches in 1864-5 as the US Government forcibly displaced 8-9,000 far from the lands that they had historically occupied, took refuge. The forced march across over 3,000 miles granted the area deep status as a refuge. It is tragic that the proposed lines of the monuments reduction drawn by GPS advance interests that would shrink a region rich with of prehistoric ruins by 85%, endangering in situ petroglyphs in Newspaper Rock that stand to be mapped in the reduced monument proposed to be renamed “Indian Creek”–but excluding areas of majestic sheer rock, sandstone gullies, and canyons, as well as sites of immeasurable historical and archeological value.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewel in Bears Ears, 2016
Among those sites proposed to be removed from monumental designation are, for some reason, the pictographs at Grand Gulch.
The drastic plans to shrink the monument seems to have suitably Trumpian proportions–as if it was part of a massive downsizing project, using tools of mapping to perform the sort of theatrical de-monumentalization of the sort that a Donald J. Trump must take a particular obscene pleasure–and not only to gloat over his predecessors’ cultural legacies, and to deny them the status of making monument that is bequeathed on Presidents, and to reserve the right to make two far smaller monuments, now renamed . But if the goal is to demonize big government and regulation, Bears Ears may be but the case in point, as it threatens to shift much of the area’s land-use designation, and effectively open it to potential prospecting, as the designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern are open for review, and Wilderness Study Areas may be stripped of protection by Congress at any time. The opening of an area mapped for preservation and historical sacred value–the Valley of the Gods, and the canyons of the region’s unique landscape, and indeed to reduce the extent of protected lands criss-crossed by prehistoric roads below the Buttes. None of the areas were opened after consultation of the five Indian Nations who had worked to preserve the lands, diminishing the 1.35 million acre monument that will be exposed to looting and leasing, undermining the investing of Congressional responsibility to revoke or amend the status of monuments or federal lands at the stroke of yet another executive action. The odd boundary modification used a GPS scalpel to protect private interests, by obscuring and rewriting any sense of a public good, opening sites for looting, pillaging, and disregarding any sense of their spiritual importance to long term residents, in ways that seem to stake a final chapter in on ongoing indigenous genocide.
What was once a monument–and will still be in the eyes of many–has been temporary massively downsized and circumscribed, as if to minimize whatever Trump’s now-forgotten predecessor had hoped to remain untouched by his successor, and had every right to expect being accorded that respect. But the relishing that Trump showed in the recent proclamation to opening the lands goes beyond vendetta, and approaches a model of auctioning off of public lands and resources on them. For the decree opens an assault on the idea of the commons, which animate public lands, as much as a waging of wars of Barack Obama’s legacy, no matter how much that may sweeten the pie, for it threatens to launch a redesigning of open public lands. For in ways that seek to conclude the land wars which have spun out in southeastern Utah, by devising altogether new maps that seem a blueprint aimed to set a prominent example for how public lands are now open to vulnerability than to address local interests.
In fact, the entire scheme seems a model for letting folks know who is boss–they have decidedly tabled concerns raised in the local Public Land Initiative, and adopted the pro-business Washington strategy of telling local populations what they really want, or what sort of economic development they want to expose formerly protected lands, and what sense of the commons Washington wants to dismantle. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have much of a coordinated plan for winning a protracted legal fight in court here, but the case sadly seems more, in Trump’s style to be a slam dunk, whose unsubtle GPS scalpels have helped fragment into the actually monumental public lands with little sense of a historical record, serving interests that are in fact far removed from any local needs or demands. Sadly, it seems doubtful he even needs a long-term strategy to prepare for expanding practices of once unthinkable oil- and gas-leasing by selling off once-protected acreage, and developing the leasing and sales of public lands to extractive industries–a big give-away of a Christmas present to extractive industires, who can operate without much or any public oversight in the legal setting the Trump administration has orchestrate over time with what seems a frightening degree of foresight for an administration that so often turns on a dime.
The strategy is particularly dangerous as it seems to set sites on making more open lands in the west–at the same time as they are historically shrinking–vulnerable by what seems federal sale to the highest bidder or the closest friends, and opens the way for the lease sale of public resources, championing local interests and rights that don’t necessarily exist–and certain aren’t legible in the way that Trump and Secretary Zinke stand to map the reduction of public lands in the individual case of Bears Ears–in order to mask a vast giveaway of resources to dirty energy companies under the name of streamlining federal land policies, eroding public protections by undoing rules without any process of public review, starting from the repeal this past August of the Official Natural Resources Revenue rule enacted by the Obama administration that was designed to increase the amount of revenues from any drilling, mining, or extracting of fuels on public lands. Whereas the Royalties rule would split such dividends between states and the feds, preventing companies from selling raw goods to shell companies that could be sold for export tax free, by affiliates or subsidiaries.
5. In rewriting federal land regulations, Trump has privileged the opening of formerly protected lands to leasing in ways that parallels the moves by Trump’s EPA to redefine national waters, dismantle regulations on mining and drilling for oil, and indeed for opening public lands to speculation by extractive industries without any recognition of the dangers methane emissions and carbon pollution pose to global warming or man-made climate change. By reducing government revenues and expanding profits for extractive industries and waving rules to limit methane emissions from oil and gas wells, drilling on public lands can now be far more profitable, after the Trump’s executive orders lifted of any consideration of the social cost of carbon that would take into account whether coal mines and surface mining would generate “costs” by greenhouse gas emissions. The undoing of these federal regulations was rarely accompanied by concrete illustrations, but are now made more evident in the opening of Bears Ears and the Escalante. They respond to the lifting of a three-year moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands while they are reviewed, which long hampered extractive industires, which produces about 40 percent of the coal used to generate electricity, which Zinke’s cancelled, and a broader review of the Clean Power Plan. Indeed, the local of Bears Ears might be best seen in relation to the global, and to the expansion of extractive energy plans that will work to emit more carbon, and release more methane, than recently issued federal regulations have been primarily deigned to curb.
The role of mapping in the parceling of public lands in both Bears Ears and the Escalante is reveled in the leaked draft maps of the new plans for dismembering the continuity and the value of the National Monument. By dividing what was recently a coherent national monuments into two rumps, the amount of resource-rich lands which were exposed to leasing dramatically grew, in a project that must have been planned remotely in Washington, D.C. within the Secretary of the Interior, using satellite images of the area rather than actually visiting its site–or using GPS-derived imagery in a UTM projection in the most sleazy and misleading of ways. The leaked plans may start to help us understand what Trump thinks he’s doing by for the first time removing federal lands from being national monuments. When we see the scale of the leaked images for what will be lost in Bears Ears by the radical shrinkage of its boundaries to two small islands–
The booming real estate market has rewritten the landscape, although the absence of the modification of open lands stands out in southeastern Utah. This reflects the presence of the monument and success of long-term preservation of sensitive areas for development–but reveals the increased interest of extractive industries to gain access to them as well, and prepares for the potential of the future modification of Nevada’s Gold Butte, which seems next on Zinke’s laundry list for the conversion of federally administered public lands to private industry, in a misguided attempt to reward extractive industries in the belief of the benefits of jump starting the domestic energy industry.
Loss of Open Land in the United States West, detail focussing on Nevada and Utah
Rather than modification by housing, the opening of the public lands of a former national monument to private interests is designed primarily for mining and drilling.
What gives with the bizarre restriction of the Bears Ears region is in danger of being a dramatically shrunken national monument? Energy needs is a large part. Even if there were thirty-three others that Obama named, this one is special, and not only for the wealth of energy in the ground, but the precedent it sets in revising the protection of federal lands. This is in part because Bears Ears was of course covered under the Antiquities Act, and because it suggests a relation to the past that doesn’t seem to have ever been particularly prized by a President fond of invoking a Disney-fied Pocahontas before Navajo elders. Even if Donald Trump’s official modification did not strip the region of monumental status, the isolated hatched regions seem cut out of the existing boundaries, including the Valley of Gods, which while it remains an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, may soon find itself open to a number of extractive technologies without any regulations, if Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has his way with ending that land-use designation. For Zinke has long hoped to open federal lands for mining–and may be the one at work in so dramatically redrawing the protection of federal lands. The decision leaves many of the areas that are under consideration as future Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in a status that is also unprotected, or in other words open for prospecting. While Congress would need to vote on including or not including such potential Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, shouldn’t Congress to consider who benefits from opening up these lands for mining and rather than for protection as part of a cultural legacy or a practice of remembering, deemed worthy of protection among existing federal lands–it is a double diminishing, in other words, of the notion of a cultural legacy, and of the importance of remembering.
The proclamation, while perhaps not legal, seems the opening salvo of Trump’s processing of Zinke’s broader recommendation to trim four entire national monuments on Western lands in order to open them up to actions of ecological destruction and shrinkage of open space–by encouraging permits of logging and mining to future development, which is bound to be a major give away, and bring quite a few eager for expanding coal mining an easy buck. Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, are two of the four sites that also include Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskayou, the former 300,000 acres of desert lands with considerable rock art and sandstone towers and the latter 113,000 acres along the convergence of three mountain ranges, but the Bears’ Ears takes a bee out of The Donald’s bonnet; he was long critical of what he, the quasi-elected arbiter of legality, speaking now as a real estate man, characterized as a “massive federal land grab” that “we’re going to free up”–and in choosing the Bears Ears went for the biggest prize first, and no doubt the most satisfactory as an opportunity to characterize his predecessor’s venality in being in thrall to interests that departed from the local ones he championed. No big fan of natural beauty, anyway, Trump’s eagerness to engineer a huge review of public land preservation in the United States–as allegedly “harming” bucolic American activities that Zinke characterized as “traditional” –“traditional uses of the land such as grazing, timber production, mining, fishing, hunting, recreation and other cultural uses are unnecessarily restricted“–to prevent elitist impulses from harming local economies.
But is not the remapping of the integrity of the National Monument a way of exposing them to the interests of extractive industries that stand to compromise not only the lands, but their access to local residents? The proposal raises deep questions of the ethics of stewardship that Trump seems decided to eradicate or erase, as well as the historical relation of local communities to the land. Indeed, the extent of modification of the boundaries of the National Monument seem to reveal even more egregious instances of venality. The argument that this is really about energy resources openly recalls Ronald Reagan’s notorious insistence that we should continue to burn petroleum in cars without ride-sharing, gasoline taxes, or constraining energy habits, as environmental protections of big government have been what has prevented us from drilling for large deposits of offshore oil and gas that are only waiting to be tapped to allow us to indulge our need for petroleum. We’re perhaps not there, yet, but the logic is identical. The claims that the Antiquities Act was used to hinder “energy development” and belonging to a “war on coal” that would be able to stimulate local economies conceals the huge give aways that opening three million acres in Utah to prospecting plays well to a red state, and give a prize to Orrin Hatch–chair of the Senate Finance Committee–and Senator Mike Lee for having helped force through a tax bill that they should not have consented to provide huge tax cuts to corporations, and undermining programs from public education to health insurance to Medicare, and even publicly bemoaning after the fact that no funds exist to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, affirming his reluctance to dismantle the program, even if it is designed to “help people [who] don’t help themselves.”
The new affirmations from Hatch suggest something like a sharp change of mind, but adopts the similar Reagan-esque rhetoric once again in fashion among Trump’s White House team. “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves – won’t lift a finger – and expect the federal government to do everything,” Hatch reasoned, after having voted to approve the new Tax Bill to give a real tax break to the owners of private jet planes, even though he had once helped to frame it, with the late Edward Kennedy, who was proud to have convinced him to support it, and which Hillary Clinton also supported as Senator–and has since championed. Is the destruction of the program a knife into Hillary Clinton, or will the sale of public lands help to provide funds for it? At any rate, the “moral responsibility to help children” he once vaunted proudly seems to have disappeared; opening lands for mining, logging, and grazing is the outdated order of the day.
For the proud declaration of definitively shrinking a monument that was the size of the state of Delaware–13 million acres–into something the size of Dallas is less the triumph of local interests that Trump seems to have celebrated–but brazen remapping of the landscape of protected lands to a vestige of the region that recently protected, and whose protection was just theatrically rolled back. One might not look for that cunning a strategy in all this, but a classical case of governmental over-reach–in the name of protecting local interests, and rehearsing an increasingly tired opposition between rural America and coastal elites that Trump seems particularly interested in replaying as he visits the regions of America he seems most likely to recognize as trophies on his prized electoral map more than places, and has, of course, spent little or no time.
7. Creating two small rumps as vestigial monuments arrogated a huge amount of authority to the current executive, and seems to undermine the inherited responsibility to protect federal lands, by treating them as a sort of fief or personal possession of the occupant of the office of President, rather than as having been legally defined as monuments of collective interest: Trump was never known for much interest in monuments that were not dedicated to his own name, to be sure, but his attempts to dispose of public properties that as President he is steward of, rather than owner of a negotiable title, treating the evacuation of the investing of land with the status of a national monument with a rather frightening degree of fungibility
The signing celebration in the halls of Salt Lake City, bizarrely staged under a painting of Western exploration–Lewis & Clark with a passive Sacagawea? While that seems right to marginalize the claims of the native tribes, the lunette actually shows Mormons’ covered carriage as they arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847, in an image of manifest destiny. The theme of the painting fits the announcement of demonumentalization, removed from the real site of the park even as protestors outside the Capitol Building beseeched the President to visit the areas he had just demoted as protected public lands. Below the image of the 1847 arrival of Mormons in the Great Salt Lake Valley, “The Passing of the Wagons,” which faces an image of the desert turned fertile by irrigation, Trump seemed to proclaim the land now open for drilling and leasing, as if an auctioneer asking for the highest bid, but invoking that the sale as Manifest Destiny. For in evoking the hoary myth of Manifest Destiny and the interests it concealed, the Executive Order opens lands to public prospecting, mining and speculation presumes a self-serving ideal of unfettered ownership of lands, erasing their relation to native inhabitants and to their historical occupation.
The image of the opening of lands stands in odd contrast to the massive contraction of the monument, if it stages a similar conceit of the destined opening of public lands to the settlers of the Great Salt Lake. Yet, rather than offer lands to new settlers, as the mythic story goes, Trump seems to be inviting the wagons of industry into not only southeastern Utah, declaring the opening of vast expanses of once public lands to private interests, with only the promise of trickle-down benefits to states.
Indeed, the territorial break-up Trump has decreed by GPS magic follows no logic other than opening up resources beneath the ground, destined to disrupt the coherence of the lands themselves. The proposal offers a dangerous emblem of the dismantling of a logic of protection, conservation, or protecting natural resources. For more than any other president, Trump channeled Ronald Reagan’s disturbing legacy of dismantling the role of representative government, when he taunted on national television that “Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by very distant bureaucrats located in Washington.” As Reagan, Trump seems to be using the power of a sound bit to push under the rug that local indigenous groups had long pushed hard and strong for the region’s preservation, and that it has been long been sacred to the Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain, and Zuni, who turned to President Obama after finding that they had no truck with local lawmakers who were elected to represent them. As Reagan, his failure to appreciate the ecological integrity of lands and the dangers of environmental risks to the nation’s security seems to invite the upsetting of a fragile if longstanding ecological balance The radical reduction appears a trial balloon for the assertion of Washington to give away once-protected lands, as part of a great real estate sell-off, perhaps to try to address the exploding debt, but perhaps more to keep Hatch as an ally in the Senate, securing the commitment from the 83 year old seven-term Utah senator to be bolstered in the state and to exclude the hopes of an increasingly marginalized Mitt Romney who once hoped to contest his seat, cementing the new status in which Trump, who works everything based on personalities and alliances, rather than issues or ideology, to keep a strong ally to pursue his project of selling off of public lands in hopes to Make American Great Again–and to show Romney the back door, again, and let him know who is running the country, or claims to be, by denying the very concept of a public interest.
Trump’s predesignation of the monuments seems a desperate power play, and a distraction from ongoing investigations of his immersion in schemes of financial corruption. They are also something of a Christmas present to benefactors, an item to be ticked off that was promised to the special interests not only of lobbyists but within the Republican party. Such rewriting the process of monument preservation and federal lands protection pose deep challenges to the preservation of lands. Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni Tribal Governments are working together to defend Bears Ears National Monument.