This nonpartisan study was supported by Highline Outdoor Group in partnership with Spork & Flask. See Works Cited section for all referenced sources.
Many of President Trump’s actions in the past year have been heavily criticized, including those regarding the environment and the outdoor industry. At the forefront of these conservation issues is his recent downsizing of Bears Ears National Monument. Was this a deliberate attack on public lands or was his reasoning just? Let’s dive into the definitive facts surrounding Bears Ears.
First, here’s a quick background on Bears Ears: In December 2016, President Obama protected 1.35 million acres in Southeastern Utah, designating it as Bears Ears National Monument. This area contains over 100,000 objects of archeological significance, including cliff dwellings, ceremonial grounds, and artifacts dating back thousands of years. On December 4, 2017, President Trump declared that the monument would be downsized by 85%, reducing the protected area to just 230,000 acres – outraging the outdoor industry. Below are some of the justifications, with a full analysis of each, assessing whether or not the reduction was necessary and reasonable.
Assessment 1: Most People and Groups Generally Opposed the Monument
The Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy not-for-profit, argues that Obama only protected Bears Ears because he was pressured by corporations, and that he ignored the voices of local citizens and Native American tribes.  Let’s break this into four components: locals, Native Americans, the general public, and corporations.
Assessment 1A: Local Communities Were Adamantly Against It
The Sutherland Institute’s website argues that thousands of local citizens in San Juan County were steadfastly against the national monument designation. The website reasons that “Utahns have suffered the consequences of federal overreach long enough.”
Analysis: This is partially correct* – multiple videos and articles online detail the dissenting opinions of San Juan County citizens – largely due to expected economic ramifications (explored later).
*Edit 1/4/18: After posting this study, Andrea Himoff, Executive Director of Action Utah (a nonpartisan community engagement network), pointed out some fallacies in this argument: “Navajo make up about half of the county’s population and are often overlooked as locals or are counted separately, as if only white local opinion counts. Local opinion is also very different depending on which town you are in. Blanding is dominated by monument opponents. Bluff is dominated by monument supporters. Blanding is more white while Bluff has a larger Navajo population. A balanced discussion of ‘locals’ would take into account all residents of San Juan County.” The opinions of Native Americans were not meant to be discounted as non-locals, but highlighted as important factors in the debate, as explored in section 1B. We appreciate Andrea’s input and would like to acknowledge the important facts that she pointed out.
Assessment 1B: Native Americans Were Adamantly Against It
President Trump argued that the monument “prevents Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions.” The Sutherland Institute also argues that the monument stole these lands from the Native Americans – a familiar plight. 
Analysis: This is blatantly incorrect. A coalition of five local Utah tribes (the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi and the Pueblo of Zuni) teamed up for the first time in history to lobby for the monument’s designation. They have now filed a lawsuit against Trump’s reduction of the monument . Here are a few telling quotes from President of the Navajo Nation, Russell Begaye:
- “The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.” 
- “We will stand and fight all the way…[ they have already taken] millions of acres of my people’s land.” 
- “The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region.” 
Assessment 1C: The General Public Had Mixed Opinions
The Trump administration recently reviewed the boundaries of all national monuments which were designated by the Antiquities Act, and asked for public opinion on the matter. During the two month period, they received over 2.8 million comments.
Analysis: Once again, this claim is vehemently incorrect. The opinion was “mixed” – if you consider a 99.2% to .8% ratio “mixed”. An overwhelming majority were steadfastly against Trump’s review of the monuments. Here are a few key stats :
- 2% of comments were against the review.
- 9% of Utahns were against the review.
- 6% of comments were against the review of Bears Ears.
Assessment 1D: Obama Gave in to Corporate Interests
The Sutherland Institute argues that Obama gave in to lobbying of corporations when he designated the Monument in 2016. 
Analysis: This is also offensively incorrect. Obama designated the monument due to lobbying from Native Americans, conservation groups, and the outdoor industry. In fact, it has now been shown that President Trump is actually the one who gave in to corporate interests – recent leaks have revealed that a uranium mining company, Energy Fuels Resources, urged the Trump administration to downsize the monument so that it could have easier access to the area’s deposits.  Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, argued that “This is not about energy… There is no mine within Bears Ears”, but in a leaked letter from May 25th, COO of Energy Fuels Resources directly states that “there are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources.” 
The Washington Post also points out that uranium mining is also an emotional issue for members of the Navajo tribe: “More than 500 uranium mines have been left near or on their lands, and most of these designated Superfund sites have not been cleaned up. Contamination still affects drinking-water wells, springs and storage tanks. 
Assessment 2: The Monument Economically Damages Local Communities
San Juan County is the poorest county in Utah and one of the most impoverished in the United States. Opponents of the monument argue that it will continue to destroy an already-struggling community.
Analysis: The opinions are mixed on this one. Opponents point out that San Juan County already has one national park and three national monuments, which have failed to bring prosperity in.  Proponents note, however, that “the reason this area is impoverished lies in the fact that the area has historically over-relied on resource extraction – including Lisbon Valley copper and uranium mines and oil and gas fields near Aneth – which have declined along with the market” .
Additionally, there is extensive research illustrating that public lands actually create jobs and improve local economies:
- “Three studies analyzed the economies surrounding the 17 national monuments in the 11 western continental states that are larger than 10,000 acres and were created between 1982 and 2001… Across the board, trends in important economic indicators either continued or improved in each of the regions surrounding the 17 national monuments studied.” 
- “Protected lands help create jobs and economic growth. From the early 1970s to the early 2010s, western rural counties with the highest share of protected federal lands on average had faster population, employment, and personal income growth—two times faster or more—than their peers with the lowest share of protected federal lands.” 
- “Protected lands increase per capita income. In 2010, per capita income in western nonmetropolitan counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands was on average $4,360 higher than per capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands.” 
- From 2001 to 2015 in the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante region, population grew by 13%, and jobs grew by 24%. 
Assessment 3: The Outdoor Industry Won’t Help the Economy
Opponents argue that the outdoor retailers who are getting involved in the debate are largely doing so as a marketing scheme, and that the outdoor industry won’t help uplift the local economy or create jobs.
Analysis: This one is also remarkably incorrect. The outdoor industry generated $12.3 billion for Utah in 2016, and created roughly 110,000 jobs – “more than twice as many as the mining (32,000) and energy (18,000) sectors combined.” 
Also, outdoor retailers passionately believe in the exploration and preservation of these lands – actively encouraging their followers to discover and help protect them. REI sent an email to its six million members urging support, and Patagonia created a digital platform to raise awareness and call for action. The Outdoor Industry Association wrote a letter to Trump defending public lands, signed by industry leaders from more than 200 companies, including such giants as Big Agnes, Columbia, LL Bean, Osprey, and The North Face.  It’s more than a marketing scheme – it’s a heartfelt passion project.
“It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands.” 
- Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association, et al.
Assessment 4: The Government Can’t Afford to Protect These Lands
San Juan County citizens argue that the land was better-protected when they were in control – how is the cash-strapped government (with an $11.3 billion national park maintenance backlog) going to protect it better?
Analysis: Partially correct – given our current budgetary prioritization, the Bureau of Land Management lacks sufficient resources to properly protect these public lands. Congress needs to recognize these places for what they truly our – our most prized possessions – and designate more money for their upkeep accordingly. An op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune points out that “The national monument designation ensures that needed protections are in place, and all that is needed is for Congress to sufficiently fund these agencies to do their job. If you want to establish federal land managers as ineffectual, then give them no resources and oppose them at every opportunity.” 
Truthfully, though, Utah can’t afford to manage these lands either and will likely have to resort to selling land to the highest bidder (read: uranium corporations). No one is claiming that San Juan residents are irresponsible – they’re stressing that if these lands aren’t protected, get ready to see “No Trespassing” signs at your favorite spots.
Assessment 5: Obama Created the Monument Unjustly
Former-President Obama exercised the Antiquities Act to declare Bears Ears a national monument without having to get approval from Congress – a move that some have called federal overreach. In downsizing the monument, President Trump claims that he has cut out areas which “are not unique to the monument” or “are not of significant scientific or historic interest.”
Analysis: Extraordinarily Incorrect. Get mad at Teddy Roosevelt if you think Obama’s declaration was wrong. Signed into order by Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by nearly every president since (eight republicans and eight democrats) – allowing the president to quickly protect endangered sites without the approval of Congress. It has been used to protect majesties such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, Acadia, Arches, Joshua Tree, Grand Teton, Denali, and many more. The designation was legitimate, and President Trump’s reduction removes protection for multiple “grave sites, ceremonial grounds, ancient cliff dwellings, and the surrounding ecosystems.” 
Assessment 6: It Ruins American Children’s Dreams
The Sutherland Institute’s website includes this video entitled “Bears Ears: My American Dream”, in which children explain their disapproval of the monument. One child explains that “When someone takes away your land and livelihood, can you really be anything you want to be?”
Analysis: Ironic and Incorrect. The monument protects the land for our future generations – opening it to potential corporate sales truly takes away the land and harms the children.
Assessment 7: People Are Dying Out There!
In an interview with NPR, Utah State Representative, Michael Noel, reasoned that he endorsed Trump’s plan because “we’re getting people killed every year here that get lost. We can’t even put in a cell tower.”
Analysis: Hilarious. I can’t believe that I even am taking the energy to list this. I’ve personally driven across the US, multiple times. Do you know how much consistent service you have, even in non-backcountry areas? Not much. National parks and monuments are prized for their remoteness, and arguing this point is laughably ridiculous to anyone who has ever been to a park.
Summary and Conclusions
Nearly every proclaimed justification has been proven grossly inaccurate. In many cases, the Trump administration and proponents of the downsizing have unabashedly lied to the public. It is true that portions of local communities are against the monument, and that there could potentially be negative economic impacts upon them – which is why the ramifications must be acknowledged and proper assistance must be provided.
There will always be debates about the economic impact of national parks and monuments. But the national parks were founded upon the realization that these places – these precious, magical tracts of land – are truly invaluable. They provide something of much greater value to the American public. And sometimes, the protection of these gems is not necessarily the best economic decision, but it is the best overall decision – for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
No, President Trump should not be considered for Outdoorsman of the Year. In fact, he’s “bigly” unqualified.
Call to Action
Want to help the fight against the downsizing of Bears Ears? Here are a couple resources:
- Check out the Bears Ears Coalition’s website for information on how to raise awareness and donate to the cause.
- Friends of Cedar Mesa, a Utah-based not-for-profit, is collaborating with several other outdoor industry brands to fundraise for an Education Center for Bears Ears. The Kickstarter campaign, ending on 12/31, has raised nearly $200,000 and hopes to reach $225,000 by the deadline.
Calvin Bond is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist living in Denver. He is the founder and editor of www.sporkandflask.com
Tony O’Neill is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist living in Indianapolis. He is the founder and president of www.highlineoutdoor.com
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- Mike Gorrell The Salt Lake Tribune · July 26, 2017 12:46 pm. “Outdoor Recreation Meant $12B to Utah’s Economy Last Year.” The Salt Lake Tribune, sltrib.com/article.php?id=5553785&itype=CMSID.
- “An Open Letter: Together We Can Defend Our Public Lands.” Outdoor Industry Association, org/article/together-can-defend-public-lands/.