Shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante: Trump’s Monumental Mistake
Well, he told us he would do it. And now he's actually doing it — or at least trying to. Late last week, President Trump, via the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, announced that he was formalizing his plan to develop lands that once belonged within the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. The former is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically fragile landscape that has played a crucial role in Native American culture in the Southwest for thousands of years; the latter, just as beautiful, is one of the richest and most important paleontological sites in North America.
The Trump administration would allow drilling, mining, and other highly disruptive forms of development to take place on millions of acres that are of immense and unquestionable scientific, cultural, and religious significance. This significance is what compelled President Bill Clinton to designate Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument back in 1996, and what led President Barack Obama to bestow the same designation on Bears Ears two decades later.
On the one hand, the new plan comes as no surprise: In December 2017, Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears by roughly 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half. On the other hand, it came as a huge surprise, in that a great many legal experts contend that Trump's resizing of the monuments is illegal, and, furthermore, believe that the courts — which are still in the midst of determining the move's legality — are likely to agree.
Normally, when your big plans are tied up in litigation and could come crashing down at any moment with the sweep of a judge's gavel, you err on the side of prudence and resist the urge to forge ahead. Not this president. In a phone call with reporters last week, Casey Hammond, the Interior Department's acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, revealed the thinking behind his boss's decision. "If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved," he said, "we would never be able to do much of anything around here."
Talk about saying the quiet part out loud. The administration can't possibly know how the courts will rule, which leaves just one explanation: It doesn't care how they will rule. Procedural due process may be fine for others, Trump and his Interior Department have concluded, but it's just not their thing. They're not going to wait around for some judge to tell them what they can or can't do.
But let's set the legal question aside for a moment, and instead explore the moral question that applies. For the tribes and pueblos of the region, Bears Ears is hallowed ground, and has been for many centuries. In the words of Jim Enote, CEO of the Colorado Plateau Foundation, the land "is a touchstone for the Zuni people. The Zuni people go to the Bears Ears area to pay respect to our ancestors in a way that is not very different from people going to a cemetery and paying respect to their family members." In Obama's proclamation designating Bears Ears a national monument, he spent more than 4,000 words vividly detailing the history and grandeur of the land, linking its sacredness to its pristine natural beauty. Federal protection, he wrote, would "preserve its cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy and maintain its diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of this area remain for the benefit of all Americans."
Can you imagine the Trump administration — or any administration, for that matter — redrawing, by executive fiat, the boundaries of Arlington National Cemetery or the Lincoln Memorial to accommodate the desires of drilling, mining, and other extractive industries? It's unthinkable. And yet this administration exhibits no compunction about grievously assaulting the lands, culture, and religious practices of Native Americans. "When the monument was reduced, it made us think, again, we have given so much to this nation and we are receiving so little in return," Enote told National Geographic magazine.
The decision goes well beyond disrespect. It's desecration. It's an act openly contemptuous of both the five tribes' heritage and that of all Americans. These lands, and the stories that they tell and the ways of life they sustain, are part of our country's collective story and they deserve protection.
Trump's plan's also, like so many of his other gambits, legally unsound. If President Trump believes that recklessly moving forward on this act of administrative vandalism is going to somehow intimidate the courts or the coalition that has risen up in defense of Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante, he's in for a surprise.
Jeff Turrentine is the Culture & Politics columnist at NRDC's onEarth. A former reporter for The Washington Post, he has also written for Slate, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.
Reposted with permission from onEarth.
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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