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The Trump Administration Is Moving Forward With Plans for Scaled-Down Utah Monuments

But to those awaiting the outcome of legal challenges to the president's reductions, the planning seems premature.
A hiker makes his way up a trail to Calf Creek in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on May 10th, 2017.

A hiker makes his way up a trail to Calf Creek in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on May 10th, 2017.

The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday released draft plans for how the lands contained within Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the two Utah national monuments that President Donald Trump downsized last December, will be protected, developed, or otherwise used.

The draft management plans and accompanying environmental impact statements, which together cost nearly $2 million to develop and produce, lay out what the BLM describes as "a range of options to resolve resource conflicts." For example, the options considered for Bears Ears include keeping all management as-is, prioritizing protection of the monument's "objects and values" over other uses, and more closely monitoring and protecting key areas. The BLM's "preferred alternative"—the most flexible and least protective—would allow for the "continuation of multiple uses" of the land while keeping recreation close to current levels and protecting the monument's "objects and values."

The plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante offers management options for the three remaining areas of the monument—now known as the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyons units—as well as for the 862,431 acres Trump excised from the monument, now referred to as the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area. The inclusion of the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area isn't necessarily good news for those who want to see those lands protected though: The BLM's preferred alternative would open up those lands to oil and gas leasing and mining. "The lands Trump tried to cut out of the Staircase have an 'open for business' sign on them," Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

While the Grand Staircase-Escalante blueprint addresses the lands cut out of the monument, the one for Bears Ears focuses solely on the Shash Jáa and Indian Creek units, which together make up the monument's remaining 201,876 acres. In fact, the BLM notes that it received comments suggesting that the agency include in the planning area all lands encompassed by the original monument as designated by President Barack Obama. But the BLM opted not to do so.

The agency will be accepting comments on the plans for 90 days. But to those who hope Trump's shrinking of the monuments will be overturned—and are awaiting the resolution of legal challenges to those reductions—the planning process feels premature.

"After this administration illegally rolled back protections on the largest acreage of public land in U.S. history, moving forward with business-as-usual is a charade," Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, said in a statement. "The administration should wait for legal challenges to the reductions to have their day in court before [Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke] tries to open up stolen land to corporate land barons and sell off our protected lands to the highest bidder." HuffPost points out that the draft plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante identifies more than 1,600 acres for "disposal" despite the Trump administration's insistence it opposes the transfer or sale of public lands.

Conservation organizations, scientists, and local grassroots groups denounced the release of the plans. "The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument already has a plan that should remain in place, continuing to protect the priceless antiquities within its borders, at least until a court rules on the legality of the Trump reduction," Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, said in a statement.

Honor Keeler, assistant director of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a Native American-led non-profit group, compared the chopping up of Bears Ears to "tearing down a church or temple" and "hand[ing] back in piecemeal the bricks and sacred items that have been destroyed."