President Trump Shrinks Bears Ears

America's public land legacy was struck a decisive blow today. Utah, at the forefront of the public lands and national monument debate, got a visit from President Donald Trump.  In an unprecedented use of presidential power, Trump decided to shrink Bears Ears Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The announcement came at the end of months of speculation, review, Tribal protests, and ongoing controversy over the recommendations made by Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke to shrink Bears Ears.  

The Bears Ears National Monument will be reduced by more than 80 percent, to 230,000 acres from the current 1.3 million acres and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be reduced by about 50 percent. Lawsuits will clearly be filed to oppose this decision and use of presidential power. Yet, this announcement comes as the administration pushes for fewer and fewer restrictions regarding the use of our public lands, and ultimately opening them up to a very uncertain land management fate. Just hours before the announcement, the New York Times reported that the announcement could open millions of protected public acres to oil and gas extraction, mining, logging and other commercial activities.  

This decision has significant impact on the state of Utah, as well as the five nation tribes who have worked to preserve this land and its cultural significance.  It also portends the possible fate and controversy that awaits all of our great western outdoor states with public lands.  In Idaho, we are wise to take note, educate ourselves and prepare to engage to protect our public lands and outdoor assets.  This is an issue that impacts our nation, our people, our economy, and our great American land legacy.  It has become all too easy to simplify this debate as a win for Republicans and their commercial activities, and a tragedy for environmentalists, Indian nations and recreationists who have fought to protect this region. However, this loss clearly crosses party lines.  We are all stakeholders when it comes to our public lands and national monuments.     

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Public opinion polls may not tell the whole story when it comes to public lands, but sometimes a general sense of the widespread and nonpartisan support of our public lands is helpful and needed to prevent this from turning into another partisan battle.  This is an issue where we are less at odds than many special interests would have us believe. Research from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project shows:

  • 74 percent of Western voters oppose selling off public lands
  • 64% of Republicans oppose selling off public lands
  • 85% of Democrats oppose selling off public lands

As a collective and nonpartisan business voice, Idaho Business for the Outdoors stands behind the preservation of Utah's Bears Ears and our nation's public lands for the value they represent to our businesses, economy, communities, and future.  Increasingly, people and businesses are attracted to states with strong outdoor amenities and outdoor recreation opportunities.  Outdoor states, like Idaho, rely on their outdoors when recruiting employees, businesses, tourists and retirees to their states.  

Healthy outdoors and public lands are a business advantage for Utah, Idaho and other outdoor states. According to Headwaters Economics, these states with public land holdings are seeing increased growth, increased revenue and boosts in personal income.  When public lands are transferred, sold off and privatized, we put the economy of our state, and the future of our communities at risk in an increasingly divisive and short sighted political game with our public lands the pawn.

Heather Parkinson Dermott