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Science & Environment

Feds May Open Utah National Monuments For Mining And Drilling

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In southern Utah, the Trump administration has finalized its plan to remove protections from Bears Ears and other land designated as national monuments. The announcement comes despite an ongoing legal challenge by Native American tribes. Those tribes argue the White House acted illegally by dramatically shrinking established boundaries. NPR's Kirk Siegler has this update.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: It's been more than two years since President Trump flew to Salt Lake City and signed an order that became the largest reversal of national monument protections in U.S. history. Located in prized Utah Canyon Country, the Clinton-era Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was cut nearly in half. And Bears Ears, designated by President Obama, went from 1.3 million acres to about 200,000. The monuments were opposed by Utah's influential rural Republican county commissioners, who worried the added protections would stifle ranching and mining. These new management plans restore a balance, says Casey Hammond. He's an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Interior.

CASEY HAMMOND: With these decisions, we are advancing our goals to restore trust and be a good neighbor.

SIEGLER: Many Native American tribes who pushed for protections at Bears Ears in particular see it differently.

HONOR KEELER: We find that this is an ongoing failure to meaningfully consult with tribes.

SIEGLER: Honor Keeler with the group Utah Dine Bikeyah says protections are now going away for land full of sacred artifacts, burial sites and other cultural resources.

KEELER: This seems to be an indicator of the treatment of Indigenous peoples in the United States.

SIEGLER: The president's authority to shrink national monuments under the Antiquities Act remains in dispute. The 1906 law says presidents can designate monuments. But legal experts have widely held that only Congress has the power to abolish or downsize them. Tribes and conservationists say these management plans should be on hold until the courts weigh in. Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.