Today, President Trump signed a presidential proclamation that will shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments to fractions of their originally designated size in order to permit even more oil, gas and mining development on our treasured public lands. The President’s proclamation will shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85% of its original size and decrease the protected areas of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by roughly half. Ultimately, this order represents the largest reduction of protected lands in American history. This unpopular decision is a step backward for western communities, local economies, and the values we hold dear.
Westerners care deeply for our national parks and monuments, and western opposition to removing protections from these areas is well established. A 2017 Conservation in the West poll conducted by Colorado College showed that 80% of western voters support keeping protections for existing monuments in place while only 13% support removing these protections. Over the course of Secretary Zinke’s recent monuments review, 2.8 million comments were submitted to the Trump Administration opposing changes or reductions to existing national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
The preserved land and cultural sites protected by these monuments are integral to quality of life enjoyed in the West. The beautiful natural landscapes encompassed within their boundaries are part of our heritage and define who we are as a region. These public lands help locals and tourists alike find solace and inspiration in what has become an increasingly hectic world. Indeed many westerners choose to live here primarily because of access afforded to cherished and conserved landscapes for hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. The current monument designations also provide protections for thousands of Native American ruins, rock art, and artifacts that are sacred to the Native American tribes of the Southwest and serve as a record of our region’s cultural history. Indeed, the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906 largely to shield such sites and resources from the threat of looting.
Rural communities in the West also rely on these landscapes to help fuel their economies and provide jobs. Earlier this year the Outdoor Industry Association published a report establishing that the outdoor recreation economy is responsible for generating upwards of $887 billion in consumer spending annually. This equates to $65 million in federal tax revenue, and nearly $60 million in state tax revenue. Regions surrounding national monuments have enjoyed continued growth in employment and personal income as a result of their proximity to these federally-protected areas. Further, rural western counties with more federal lands have been found to have healthier economies, on average, than their peers without an equal amount of conserved acreage. This strong evidence makes it abundantly clear: national monuments are a boon to western communities, and should be preserved in their entirety to help these communities flourish.