Washington • As President Donald Trump geared up to slash millions of acres from national monuments in Utah, career Bureau of Land Management officials were touting the importance of the designations to protect the land and its economic boom to the area, internal documents show.
“In the 20 years since Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was designated, a wealth of scientific knowledge has been discovered, with significant archaeological, paleontological, biological, ecological and geological discoveries on the monument,” BLM assistant field manager Allison Ginn said in an email she sent the Utah BLM staff in May 2017. “The Kaiparowits Plateau contains a plethora of paleontological specimens — 12 new dinosaur species have been discovered since designation.”
Less archeological research, she added, would have occurred without the monument designation.
In July, another BLM staffer wrote about the economic impact of the monument, which President Bill Clinton created in 1996.
“Recreational visitors spend money at local businesses, and that spending can lead to economic contributions that affect regional and state economy [sic],” Nikki Moore, the division chief for the BLM’s National Conservation Lands program, wrote to another BLM staffer. “The economic contributions occur annually, and in cases where visitation increases over time, recreation generates additional activity each year. The net economic contributions associated with recreation in 2016 are estimated to be about $51 million in value added and 1,024 jobs.”
The documents were obtained by the Montana-based Western Values Project through a public records request and provided to The Salt Lake Tribune. The center says the emails from on-the-ground staffers for the BLM make clear that Trump’s action to cut 900,000 acres from the Grand Staircase monument was a result of political pressure and not based on Interior’s own findings.
"These newly released public documents show that Interior had a predetermined agenda for the 1 million acres of protected public land slashed from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project. “They steamrolled expertise on the ground in Utah in order to push a narrow political agenda from Washington, D.C.”
Trump flew to Utah in December 2017 and cut 2 million acres from the Grand Staircase monument and the nearby Bears Ears National Monument, a move he argued would allow better use of the land and return control to people who live nearby.
Tribal leaders, who had pushed for the Bears Ears monument to preserve cultural and historic lands, joined environmental groups to sue Trump, who they argue does not have the legal authority to reduce a monument’s size. Those lawsuits are pending in federal court.
Saeger says the monuments were sliced up to appease a “handful of politicians and special interests” rather than being about local control — as Trump argued.
“It was based on faulty legal theories and pie-in-the-sky hopes for industrial resource extraction in low potential areas," Saeger said, “not the intrinsic economic value these areas have brought to local communities over decades.”
The Interior Department, which oversees the BLM, didn’t comment Tuesday on the documents or their content.
The Western Values Project shared the internal BLM emails ahead of a hearing Wednesday, when the Democratic-led House Natural Resources Committee will examine the Trump administration’s approach to national monuments.
Tribal leaders are scheduled to testify.