On Tuesday, exactly one year after President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante national monuments in Utah, advocacy groups announced that more than 500,000 comments were submitted regarding the sites' future management.
From August until November, the government collected public comments on draft management plans for both monuments. (The comment period for Bears Ears closed on November 15th; the one for Grand Staircase–Escalante ended November 30th.) Though the plans for the monuments offered multiple alternatives, both favored options that would minimize environmental protections and open more land to potential energy development.
Grand Staircase–Escalante was established in 1996, and Bears Ears was established in the final days of the Obama administration at the end of 2016. While both monuments have faced some local opposition, they're generally supported by environmental groups, tribes, and scientists. Trump's decision to downsize the monuments last year followed a review of 27 monuments by the Department of the Interior (DOI), during which the DOI received more than a million comments, at least 99 percent of which opposed weakening monument protections.
"These hasty plans represent an abrupt and drastic reversal of 22 years of conservation management," Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase–Escalante Partners, said in a statement. "They do not represent thoughtful, responsible stewardship, but rather a pillaging of our national resources."
Advocacy groups say the half million comments on the new monument plans represent an unprecedented show of interest. "The number of public comments submitted to the BLM and Forest Service indicate strong support for national monuments and public lands across the United States," Mark Maryboy of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a grassroots Native American organization, said in a statement. "The people have spoken and we all want Bears Ears protections restored."