President Donald Trump sharply reduced the size of two national monuments by about two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is one of the groups suing the government over the decision. (Science)
Why is the Trump administration rethinking the scope of national monuments? Use our study guide to find out.
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including a link to today’s MapMaker Interactive map.
- Why has President Trump reduced the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments? Read the presidential proclamation about Bears Ears for some help.
- The administration and its supporters say the cuts correct what they interpret as federal overreach by past executives. (President Obama established Bears Ears, while President Clinton established Grand Staircase-Escalante.) The law “requires that any reservation of land as part of a monument be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic or scientific interest.”
- Supporters of the cuts hope to “usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth” with increased opportunities for economic development. Removal of land from a national monument opens possibilities for investment in extractive activities, such as drilling and mining. Designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, for instance, stopped plans for a coal mining project.
- Who is suing the federal government to challenge cuts to the monuments?
- Native Americans. Representatives from the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Indian tribes accused Trump of exceeding “the limited authority delegated to his office.”
- conservationists. Organizations including the Wilderness Society, National Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness have filed a lawsuit to force the release of Freedom of Information Act requests for information about proposed cuts to national monuments.
- scientists. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is suing to block the cuts. In addition, more than 100 scholars signed a letter arguing that only Congress can shrink a monument.
- What legal argument unites the concerns of all these groups legally opposing the cuts?
- The groups all say the executive branch does not have the legal authority to reduce the size of an existing monument.
- Why are the paleontologists of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in particular concerned about cuts to the two national monuments? Read through their statement for some help.
- Both areas are huge repositories of fossils, and part of the SVP’s mission is to preserve vertebrate fossils. “[V]ertebrate fossils are rare. Often a vertebrate fossil is one of its kind. But even when it’s not one of its kind, paleontologists need to know things about ranges of variation, geographic distributions of species, and so on.” Protections afforded by national monuments preserve both the fossils and the rock formations from which they are extracted.
- The SVP supported the creation of both monuments “because of the unique paleontology that is now protected within their boundaries.” (Take a look at the maps of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase at the top of the post to get a glimpse of that.)
- Thanks to protections afforded by national monuments, “[w]e now have the most extraordinary Late Cretaceous ecosystem documented anywhere. After the monument was established, a lot of the dinosaur material was discovered.”
- About 10% of SVP members are “actively engaged in long-term research at the Monument or have made short-term research visits for field trips or site visits.”
- How does removing lands from national monument designation threaten paleontological sites?
- “First, in the monument paleontology had priority over other uses. [But on BLM lands managed for multiple uses,] if there’s another competing use the paleontology does not necessarily hold sway. An extreme example would be mining—if mining wins out, then the fossils can be destroyed.
- “Second, the monument is better staffed, so it’s harder for someone to sneak in illegally and take things, whereas on ordinary BLM land it’s much less well policed.
- “Third, in national monuments where paleontology is one of the designated resources, there’s a whole special funding stream for research … The funding through the monument has really made the science there blossom; we would not have seen the level or number of finds there over the last 20 years had that not existed … . Since it’s going back to [normal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) multiuse management], it will be open for leases to do fracking. You can imagine what will happen to the skeletons of mososaurs [carnivorous marine lizards] if you hydraulically fracture the rock. They’re gonna break.”
Science: Q&A: Why fossil scientists are suing Trump over monuments downsizing
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology: Why SVP Is Suing Over Monument Reductions
New York Times: Trump Slashes Size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Monuments
CNN: Native American tribes, conservation groups sue Trump over monument changes
Nat Geo: What You Need to Know About the National Monument ‘Rethink’
Nat Geo: What Monuments Have Shrunk?
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