Frag­ile na­tional mon­u­ments in dan­ger

The minute Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­tered the Oval Of­fice, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy was in dan­ger. The clean air and water reg­u­la­tions and the land pro­tec­tions he es­tab­lished, all with­out Con­gress’ as­sent, were as frag­ile as some of t

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE -

When Trump en­tered the Oval Of­fice, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy was in dan­ger.

Yet Thursday brought in­di­ca­tion that Trump may un­ravel the en­vi­ron­men­tal achieve­ments of more than one pres­i­dent. The Post re­ported that In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke sent rec­om­men­da­tions to the White House that in­clude scal­ing back some of the most prom­i­nent na­tional mon­u­ments cre­ated in the past three decades. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment, which Obama cre­ated at the end of his pres­i­dency, is top on the list for down­siz­ing. But also on the chop­ping block is the nearby — and ut­terly spec­tac­u­lar — Grand Stair­case-Es­calante Na­tional Mon­u­ment, which Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton es­tab­lished in 1996. Some mon­u­ments that are not set to shrink could nev­er­the­less lose some pro­tec­tion. More fish­ing could be per­mit­ted in sen­si­tive marine mon­u­ments, for ex­am­ple.

The de­tails are se­cret, which is a prob­lem in it­self. What is clear enough is that an ex­ten­sive tour of south­ern Utah and con­sul­ta­tion with lo­cal tribes, who pushed for preser­va­tion, did not im­part on Zinke the proper awe for the nat­u­ral won­ders he is now en­dan­ger­ing. In June the sec­re­tary issued an ini­tial re­port on Bears Ears that did not sug­gest restraint in rolling back the na­tional mon­u­ment.

Nar­rowly in­ter­pret­ing the law un­der which na­tional mon­u­ments have been es­tab­lished, Zinke in­di­cated that only iso­lated “rock art, dwellings, cer­e­mo­nial sites, gra­naries” in Bears Ears de­serve na­tional mon­u­ment pro­tec­tion, ar­gu­ing that it was ap­pro­pri­ate only to “iden­tify and sep­a­rate the ar­eas that have sig­nif­i­cant ob­jects.” This is not how pres­i­dents have used the law since the days of Teddy Roo­sevelt, who set aside more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon. Pres­i­dents for decades have pre­served spec­tac­u­lar, ir­re­place­able and in­te­grated nat­u­ral land­scapes, not just one butte or cliff dwelling at a time.

When we asked the In­te­rior Depart­ment for more in­for­ma­tion, a spokes­woman pointed to sec­tions of Zinke’s re­port that called for Con­gress to es­tab­lish other sorts of pro­tec­tions for the land he would with­draw from Bears Ears, per­haps declar­ing some of it a na­tional re­cre­ation area. If Con­gress wants to move Bears Ears’ bound­aries or es­tab­lish dif­fer­ent lev­els of pro­tec­tion on the land, it can do so. The pres­i­dent should not with­draw pro­tec­tions be­fore that hap­pens. The same goes for Grand Stair­case, a breathtaking area of the coun­try that was saved the in­dig­nity of hav­ing a coal mine drilled into it only be­cause of Clin­ton’s ac­tions 20 years ago.

Some of those push­ing to re­open th­ese lands see them as just an­other place to graze or mine. They are wrong. Th­ese places are unique. Grand Stair­case’s jut­ting rock for­ma­tions tell a ge­o­logic story over hun­dreds of miles. Bears Ears’ rust-red land­scape is re­plete with streams, buttes, nat­u­ral arches and Na­tive Amer­i­can ar­ti­facts. Land­scapes of this scale and spec­ta­cle are unique and ir­re­place­able. The nation owes it to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to pre­serve them.

Thursday brought in­di­ca­tion that Trump­may un­ravel the en­vi­ron­men­tal achieve­ments of more than one pres­i­dent.

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