Every time I go hiking in the mountains I can’t help but wonder what this place looked like before people roamed it. I think of the dinosaurs walking through the forests, the areas that must have been oceans or lakes, and all the different species of plants and animals that lived right where I’m standing. I then think of the first settlers or the Native Americans on this land, before there were roads before there were buildings. Traveling through the mountains, on horse or with a wagon and what a different view they would have seen. It’s something I wish I could go back in time and witness for myself.
On December 4th, the news broke that Trump was downsizing two national parks in Utah, Bear Ears and Grand Staircase, needless to say, I was outraged. To think that more of these magical lands we get to roam would be gone, limiting our connection with nature and further enhancing the need for more growth, more oil, more people. (All things I'm trying to downsize in my personal life). This modern way of life, while great, can still be something that needs more of the old ways of life than the new. Maybe that's just the old-soul in me.
Bear Wars will be cut back by 1.1 million acres (that’s 85% of the current 1.35 million acres it is now) and Grand Staircase will be cut in half from it's 1.8 million acres. Both monuments were created by Democratic Presidents (Grand Staircase created by President Clinton in 1996 and Bear Ears by President Obama in 2016). They will be downsized by a Republican one that seems to like turning himself into a villain.
I am all for land preservation and educating people both young and old about the outdoors but this isn’t a cut and dry issue. Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard mentioned the fact that a small 4% of our land that is protected while places like Chile have over 10% of their land protected. There is no doubt that there are plenty of places in the U.S. that could be protected. The dilemma comes in finding ways to fund the park and take care of the communities around it. Currently, the county nearest Bear Ears is the poorest county in the state. While 3 parks are within its borders there is little opportunity for growth or jobs. Downsizing the monuments would allow for oil and gas, mining and logging corporations to come in and develop the land and provide jobs. On the other hand, all these options could pose new and dangerous risks for the surrounding protected areas. Another issue comes with the high Native American population and the prejudices given to them. As the former county commissioner and Navajo elder Mark Maryboy says in a CNN article "The experience that Native Americans see in this county is discrimination. They are the last ones to be hired for any position. Even if there's a huge mining operation opening up, they will not be hired for that position. And they will be exposed to the toxic materials that are left on the ground or in the air.”
One of the greatest issues, that could be a good reason for downsizing or an ample opportunity for fixing, is the cost of upkeep of the parks. The Nationals Parks Service is in charge of taking care of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase; As the two together are over 3 million acres. With a small budget the roads, trails and access points are taken care of to a small degree; an amount equal to the limited funding. There is still an opportunity to fix this, something does have to change in order for the National Parks Service to be able to care for the land to the degree it needs, but downsizing the monuments isn't the only way to do this.
Trump isn’t the first to downsize monuments, both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt did it, but both those monuments became National Parks protecting them from further downsizing. And while job creation is necessary for these small counties, this may not be the way to go about it. Protecting our lands, and keeping them healthy (i.e. limited operations in collecting oil and gas, mining and logging) is important to the future of our country and it’s people. The 100,000 archaeological sites are not only important to the Native Americans but to all our history in understanding where this land came from and what our histories hold.
There are always two sides to every story. Trump obviously see’s this more as an opportunity for wealth (seeing as that’s what he said- “we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth”) there are still other sides of this story to be heard. There is a need for economic growth in these communities, the preservation of land is important and the respect and voices of the Native Americans is imperative. While none of these can be answered right away, and the solution will most likely take years we are in luck. With the vast amount of land and many endangered species sighting throughout it, the land will most likely stay public and free from corporations, at least for now.