Dear President Trump:
Welcome to the American West, which author Wallace Stegner described as the “native home of hope.”
You are coming to Salt Lake City on Monday not because of hope, but in response to deep resentment. For more than 21 years, rural Utah county commissioners – indeed, local officials across the West – have seethed about President Bill Clinton’s 1996 election-eve proclamation of 1.9 million acres of southern Utah wild country as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Western political leaders have long had a love-hate relationship with the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gave the president powers to protect the treasures that lie on our public land. In 1908, Arizona leaders yelped much like Utah’s leaders did in modern times when Theodore Roosevelt set aside 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon.
If reports are accurate, you will come to Utah to try to cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in half so that the coal deposits mixed in with its dinosaur fossils can be mined. You also are expected to dramatically cut back the Bears Ears National Monument from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 — an 85 percent reduction — to open areas to oil drilling and uranium mining, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears last year after extensive local public meetings and discussions with local officials, businesses and the Utah congressional delegation. One of the tribes that pushed for the monument was the Navajo, whose members include the Windtalkers you tried to honor last week for their service during World War II.
The Bears Ears area is filled with Indian relics, sacred areas and spectacular scenery that feed Southern Utah’s real growth industry: tourism. The monument proclamation came only after U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, refused to compromise on legislation to protect the area. Following the lead of local commissioners, Bishop would not do any legislation unless he could get wording that would prevent future Antiquities Act designations in Utah.
That view is popular among Western conservatives, including Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador and Sen. Jim Risch, who have legislation that would remove the power of the president to unilaterally proclaim national monuments.
I can tell you, Mr. President, that among old-school, rural Western leaders, your decision Monday will be popular. But it will not resolve the issue, and it certainly won’t lead to new coal mines.
In fact, it already has energized the wide majority of Americans who cherish our public lands to fight to reverse your decision. They will go to court to challenge your authority to diminish these national monuments, and they have a good chance of winning.
Mr. President, you and your children have many retail businesses, so you can appreciate the voices of those who sponsor the outdoor industry’s largest trade show, Outdoor Retailer. Its sponsors decided earlier this year that Salt Lake City cannot bid to host its 2018 summer and winter markets, events that bring $45 million into Utah’s economy. That decision came in response to the call by Utah officials to do what you plan to announce Monday.
Companies such as Black Diamond and Patagonia have vowed to join Indian tribes and conservation groups to fight these decisions in court. Their strongest case is in Grand Staircase-Escalante. Congress in 1998 passed a law acknowledging its boundaries, swapped state school land for valuable federally held mineral lands, and gave Utah $50 million in cash.
Will that state give the rest of us our money back?
But even if the Windtalkers and the tree huggers win, that won’t resolve this issue, Mr. President. You should come to Idaho to see how these public land disputes can be turned into win-win deals like you brag you are a master at cutting.
Republican Sen. Mike Crapo worked with Owyhee County, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, conservation groups, ranchers, hunters and motorized users to secure legislation that protected wilderness, ranching and many other values in the county in 2009 — after nearly a decade of collaboration.
Then in 2015, Rep. Mike Simpson’s bill to protect the Boulder, White Cloud and Jerry Peak areas in Central Idaho passed unanimously in the House and the Senate. Utah’s congressional delegation went along with that plan and should have learned from Simpson’s example.
Mr. President, you know that hunters, campers, snowmobilers, ATV users, anglers, mountain bikers and others who love America’s public lands supported you in the last election. So did those who support mining, oil and gas development, logging and ranching.
You might not care whether the Navajo or conservation groups are mad.
But you might see a path to a good deal — and perhaps a better role — if you stop, push the competing sides together and help the West do what Stegner envisioned – “create a society to match its scenery.”