The designation of the Bears Ears National Monument was controversial from the start, with some calling it an abuse of executive power and others saying the land must be protected. That was in 2016.
The issue remains contentious today, with the American Farm Bureau Federation, along with the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the state of Utah and San Juan County, Utah, last week filing a brief in support of President Trump’s December 2017 proclamations decreasing the size of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and the Bears Ears National Monument.
The brief, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, backs the federal government’s request to dismiss a series of consolidated cases filed against President Trump’s declarations.
The brief explains how changes made by the proclamations will protect ranchers’ livelihoods by enhancing their ability to graze livestock in and around the monuments. “Plaintiffs’ claims, if granted, would significantly jeopardize the Farm Bureaus’ members who ranch in the area under the authority of multiple federal laws and regulations, just as their ancestors have done for generations over the last 150 years,” the groups wrote.
They emphasized that President Trump was authorized to take such action under the Antiquities Act and that presidents before him had made similar modifications to national monuments on at least 18 separate occasions.
“The Act does not contain any limitations to a president’s ability to modify the area of land reserved for an existing monument should it be determined that the area reserved is not consistent with the Antiquities Act’s limited reservation authority.”
In addition to being legally sound and within the authority granted by the Antiquities Act, the president’s proclamations properly balance competing interests regarding the designation and management of public lands within Utah, the groups said.
The reduction of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and the Bears Ears National Monument “is a step toward rectifying the abuses of the Antiquities Act that occurred when each monument was created over the objection and without the input of Utah’s elected representatives.”
But not everyone sees it that way. Indigenous communities see the rolling back of President Obama’s designation as an attack, the Los Angeles Times reports. It was a coalition of tribes that lobbied to have Bears Ears designated as a national monument.
The Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, as well as the Navajo Nation and several environmental groups, argue the president doesn’t have the power to shrink Bears Ears. The Antiquities Act, they say, gives the president the authority to create national monuments, but not to rescind or reduce them.
The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service released a draft monument management plan in August and a public comment period closed on Nov. 15, according to the Farmington Daily Times. The comments are being reviewed by the agencies.