If only the rocks could talk.
If only the sandstones could sing, imagine the stories they’d tell, of dinosaurs, mammoth hunters and the “ancient ones” known as the Anasazi.
All roamed southern Utah over the eons, long before Native Americans struggled to hold their land against Mormon settlers, modern life and now, Donald Trump.
As the President arrives in Utah Monday afternoon, this rocky corner of the Wild West is a battlefield once again, but this time the warriors will carry briefcases and lawsuits.
Trump, by signing two presidential proclamations on Monday, shrunk the size of Bears Ears National Monument by more than 80% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by roughly 45%, fundamentally reshaping the two large national monuments.
The proclamations split the two national monuments into several smaller sections. Bears Ears will be shrunk from 1.35 million acres to 228,337 acres, according to the spokesperson for Interior, and split into two separate monument sections. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated by President Bill Clinton, will be split into three sections and shrunk from 1.9 million acres to just about 1 million acres.
Trump slammed past administrations — namely Clinton’s and President Barack Obama’s — for what he called “federal overreach.” The two former Democratic president designated Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante for protection, hoping to preserve their culture, history and natural beauty.
Past administrations, Trump said, thought “the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They are wrong.”
“The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best and you know the best how to take care of your land,” Trump said. “You know how to protect it. And you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come.”
Locals in the area saw the designations as nothing more than a 3-million-acre federal land grab. The drillers, miners and frackers who were shut out by Clinton’s and Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act would have new leases on life. Sen. Orrin Hatch and his fellow Utah Republicans would have a major victory to celebrate.
But those who believe the rocks can talk, through countless fossils, sacred ruins and desert solitude, are bracing for a fight.
“I’m going to sue him,” says Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of outdoor gear maker Patagonia. “It seems the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. I think it’s a shame that only 4% of American lands are national parks. Costa Rica’s got 10%. Chile will now have way more parks than we have. We need more, not less. This government is evil and I’m not going to sit back and let evil win.”
Chouinard led the effort to move a major outdoor show from Salt Lake City to Denver in protest of Utah’s land use politics and he’s been a big supporter of the historic coalition of the five local tribes, which put aside ancient rivalries and lobbied for monument protection.
Outdoor retailer Patagonia also lent its voice in opposition to the move Monday, setting the home page of Patagonia.com to a blacked-out page that says, “The President Stole Your Land,” with the option to learn more about “the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”
The site also gave visitors the option to support groups that are pushing back.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he was unmoved by people like Chouinard who are threatening lawsuits.
“I don’t yield to pressure, only higher principle,” he said. “And I don’t think public policy should be based on the threat of lawsuit … I feel very confident.”
But Chouinard’s arguments carry no sway at a pro-Trump, anti-monument rally in Monticello. Here, Chouinard represents all the liberal interests from outside, conspiring to pit neighbor against neighbor. “What’s his net worth? One billion dollars? Two billion?” says San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman. “You got Patagonia in here waving the flag of environmentalism while he’s completely exploiting the outdoors for industrialized tourism. For a person in that position to try and lecture morality to one of the poorest counties in the entire nation is wrong.”