Under President Donald Trump, the United States has seen the largest reduction of nationally protected lands in the country’s history. One of the victims of the administration is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which will soon be open to strip mining and gas extraction, according to a Bureau of Land Management document released on Friday.
This version of the plan is the final draft environmental impact statement that outlines the administration’s plans for the land and potential drawbacks.
“We really focused on the recreation needs and the changes in recreation. In the last 20 years, visitation has changed drastically. Recreation is a big part of what we’re trying to manage under this plan,” BLM spokeswoman Kim Finch said. ‘We’ve identified key focus areas for recreation, signage, visitor services. Improving the visitor experience has been on our minds for a while.”
But environmentalists disagree with the administration’s characterization of the plan, and many have filed lawsuits to stop the reclassification of these lands. “These management plans seek to cement the Trump administration legacy of destroying the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “That seems to be the objective certainly for excluded lands, which are going to be in large part available for mineral leasing and extractive development. To make matters worse, the BLM is going to prioritize motorized recreation across a large swath of the original 1.9 million acres.”
The plan identifies up to 700,000 acres that used to be federally protected that will be available to mining as well as oil and gas companies. Since the monument was reduced, 19 companies have already filed to begin work there. The plan also proposes allowing cattle to graze on the land, which the administration acknowledges could also lead to adverse environmental effects.
Just last month, the administration also published plans for Bears Ears National Monument, which it has reduced in size by 85 percent.
“This administration’s management plan only reinforces its illegal action to steal huge swaths of land from the national monument so that oil and gas and mining companies can exploit the land,” Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) said in a statement. “It puts sacred sites at risk of being lost forever.”