President Trump on Monday announced deep cuts to the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument, a site that has become the symbol of the battle over America’s protected public lands.
The monument, a vast, remote stretch of red rock canyons, dotted with Native American sites, was reduced by 85 percent – more than a million acres – and divided into two disconnected parks. The nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, was also diminished by 45 percent.
Soon after the announcement, five Native American tribes sued the Trump administration, arguing that Mr. Trump was “attempting to, in effect, abolish the Bears Ears National Monument.” Several more lawsuits have since been filed by conservation, historical and outdoor industry groups.
Bears Ears has attracted controversy since President Obama announced in December 2016 that he would protect the 1.35 million-acre site in southeastern Utah as a national monument. Republicans were quick to denounce the large, late-term declaration as a “federal land grab” and an overreach of executive power.
More recently, Bears Ears has become a focus for conservation groups and other organizations that oppose the Trump administration’s drive to open up public lands for development, agriculture, mining and other uses. Companies like Patagonia and R.E.I. have strongly supported keeping Bears Ears and other monuments intact.
Here’s a closer look at some of the sites that remain under protection, and those that have been cut out:
Still in the Monument
Mr. Trump first ordered a review of 27 national monuments in April. Bears Ears was the only one mentioned by name in his executive order. On Monday, he used the Antiquities Act to formally downsize the monument.
The Trump administration has argued that in protecting large swaths of land, previous presidents overstepped their authority under the act, which mandates that national monuments be “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Mr. Trump’s Monday order said the new boundaries would be consistent with that standard.
In a news release, the Department of Interior listed some of the sites that will remain within the new monument boundaries, including the Bears Ears buttes – two flat-top hills that jut out of the landscape. Several Native American sites, such as the Moon House Ruin and Lime Ridge Clovis Site, will also remain in the protected zones.
Tourists take in the red sandstone buttes and spires in the Valley of the Gods area.
Conservation groups, Native American tribes and others who oppose the cuts say that important artifacts and sacred lands have been left out of the new monument boundaries, leaving the sites more vulnerable to development, looting, and other threats.
Many Native American artifacts, including dwellings and other ruins, are scattered throughout the area. “They’re in the Dark Canyon Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, the White Canyon. The list really goes on and on and on,” said Tim Peterson, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust. “That’s why the Obama administration made the proclamation as large as it was, because the entire landscape is blanketed by these kinds of features. It’s pretty hard to pick a canyon and hike in it for a while and not find something.”
“Only a very small part of this area has been subject to a cultural resources inventory,” he added.
Native American tribes and other groups assert that Mr. Trump did not not have the power to shrink Bears Ears in the first place. The Antiquities Act, they say, grants the president the authority to create national monuments, but not to rescind or reduce them. The Department of Interior did not return a request for comment.
Previous presidents have used the law to shrink national monuments, including the Grand Canyon. But their power to make the cuts has never been tested in court, and the current lawsuits may have wide implications.