The current administration’s decision to reduce the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah is one of the hottest topics among environmentalists, rock climbers and lovers of the outdoors. While the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has stated multiple times that mining was not a factor in the government’s decision to reduce the monument, the evidence is suggesting that these claims may be nothing more than lip service.
The New York Times has recently gotten its hands on documents that show that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, as well as Ryan Zinke, pushed to remove protections from areas of Bears Ears known to have deposits of uranium, coal, and oil.
In an effort to “resolve mineral conflicts,” Hatch asked the Department of the Interior to review the Bears Ears boundaries last March. Other evidence shows that last May, the Bureau of Land Management started looking at a uranium mill inside the monument boundaries. After the areas containing known mineral deposits were “excluded,” a new map of Bears Ears was generated, and this map is nearly identical to the one President Trump presented when the orders to cut the size of Bears Ears was issued.
Evidence in the obtained documents also suggests that coal deposit estimates were used by Zinke’s department to decide which parts of the monument should remain protected. One area of the monument, known as the Kaiparowits Plateau, is one of the country’s largest coal deposits. Staff members were asked to research this area and determine the annual production of oil, coal, and gas.
Flora and fauna also played a part in reassigning the boundaries. Tree content and cattle grazing were taken into consideration. Specifically, the Bureau of Land Management is preparing to practice something called “chaining.” This process is devastating to a landscape because it consists of stretching a chain between two bulldozers and shredding every tree between them. The method is used to create grazing land for cattle.
Zinke claims that the decision to reduce the Bears Ears Monument is based on the wishes of Utah government leaders. While there is a large number of folks who support the reduction, there’s still an overwhelming portion that is against the decision.
Those Utah leaders who supported the decision claim that they did so to generate income from leasing the land. However, when the final reduction was announced, even they were surprised at the amount of land being cut.
Big uranium firms started competing for access to the new reduced areas in December, so despite what Zinke has said, it’s pretty clear that oil and mineral extraction was at the root of the decision.