Tribes and environmentalists say national monument bills laced with ‘poison pills’

Posted at 6:51 PM, Dec 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-06 20:51:53-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A titanic legal battle is brewing over President Donald Trump's executive orders shrinking two national monuments, but two bills from Utah Representatives could end the battle before it begins.

The headline to Representative Chris Stewart's bill is the creation of a national park taking up 100,000 acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, but the bill also nullifies President Bill Clinton's 1996 declaration creating the original monument.

Stewart, a Republican representing Utah's Second District, says the move is necessary so his bill can specify what land is meant to be included in management plans.

"We want to create a management plan to manage that new monument, not just the national park," Stewart said.

The Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance say Stewart's bill opens up more land to resource extraction, even inside national park boundaries.

"This is completely in lock-step with what the Trump administration has put forward," said Ashley Soltysiak, Sierra Club Utah Chapter Director.

Rep. John Curtis, a Republican representing Utah's Third District, says his bill does something unprecedented: creating a monument with actual management authority given to members of Native American Tribes.

"That whole concept of tribal co-management, that's the first time this has been done," Curtis said.

Curtis' bill also gives the tribal management council authority over the 1.35 million acres originally set aside by President Obama, while codifying the new acreage designated by Trump.

"We think we've drawn an important distinction, making this bigger than what was drawn by President Trump," Curtis said.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch says the Council set up by Curtis' bill sabotages the process from the start because it gives the president, in consultation with Utah's congressional delegation, the authority to name council members. President Obama established a commission with members named by the tribes themselves.

"It's just baffling the amount of disrespect that was shown, how these approaches shut out entirely the voice of the tribe," Branch said.