President Donald Trump’s rollback of national monuments in Utah went into effect Friday, stoking misguided fears that mining and oil development would run rampant under an 1872 law regulating mineral claims.
“Trump’s monstrous move to slash Bear’s Ears’ area by 85 percent and sell it off to mining and oil interests is a violent attack on Indigenous rights and disgrace to our nation’s cultural and natural heritage,” Rainforest Action Network Senior Campaigner Ruth Breech said Thursday in a press release. “Thousands of acres of sacred lands are now wholly defenseless to desecration and permanent destruction.”
In December, Trump cut Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument down from 1.35 million acres to about 202,000 making up two new national monuments, the Indian Creek and Shash Jáa national monuments. About 1.15 million acres of federal land are left out.
The 1.15 million acres of de-designated federal land revert to management plans under the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The land will be governed according to environmental regulations and multiple-use land agreements, including mineral extraction, settled prior to Bears Ears’ designation at the end of 2016, Department of the Interior (DOI) Spokeswoman Heather Swift told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Radical environmentalists have continued to perpetuate the myth that the debate over the Bears Ears area is about energy extraction – it’s not,” House Committee on Natural Resources press secretary Katie Schoettler told TheDCNF in an email.
“It is important to recognize that these lands are still federal lands … and thus remain under vigorous environmental protections,” Schoettler added. Mineral extraction will remain restricted on a “significant portion” of the land managed under rules for congressionally designated wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, and under other designations.
Recent reports indicate that the leftover land will be opened to a Gold Rush-era system of staking mineral claims governed by the General Mining Law of 1872. Using four rods, prospectors can cordon off an area no greater than 20 acres, leaving a description of the claim attached to one of the rods. A person then has 30 days to file the claim at the local Bureau of Land Management office for $212.
While claiming mineral rights this way may be legal, “further development of those claims, and any leasing/development of oil and gas or coal, requires further process with BLM and/or the Forest Service,” Swift said.
Congressional Democrats are pressuring Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to ban mineral extraction in the area formerly under the Bears Ears designation. A bill introduced by GOP Rep. John Curtis of Utah aims to do just that. Democrats have not rallied behind the bill, claiming the it is disingenuous and supporting it would imply support for Trump’s national monument action.
“If we’re serious about preventing mining and drilling in Bears Ears, the administration needs to take concrete action now, not point to a bill that may not cross the finish line,” Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Monday, according to The Washington Examiner.
“Right now, the only thing standing in the way of increasing protections of Bears Ears are the Democrats who won’t support Curtis’ bill,” Schoettler said. “If Congressional Democrats are sincere in their concerns about protecting the land, then they should fully support Curtis’ bill which maintains the 1.35 million acre [ban on] mineral withdrawal under Obama’s original proclamation.”
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