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Amicus brief filed in bid to protect monuments, Udall says

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall wants to protect New Mexico’s national monuments from what he calls an overreach from the White House.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says protecting the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments goes beyond the two Utah monuments. “This is about protecting all of our national monuments,” the New Mexico senator says. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

He said that was among the motivations behind an amicus brief filed in an attempt to stop the reduction in size of two national monuments in southern Utah.

Udall and U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, were the leaders in the filing of the amicus brief in support of plaintiffs in five cases before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The cases challenge the Trump administration’s decision to significantly diminish the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. A total of 26 senators and 92 house members have signed on to the amicus brief.

“While I am committed to protecting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, this is about far more than just two national monuments,” Udall said in an email to the Journal. “This is about protecting all of our national monuments — including monuments like Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico — from executive overreach.”

While New Mexico’s national monuments may not be currently under attack, Udall said they could be threatened in the future if the Trump administration’s actions go unchecked.

Arch Canyon, within Bears Ears National Monument, is a focus of legal cases reacting to the Trump administration's move to diminish two Utah national monuments. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Arch Canyon, within Bears Ears National Monument, is a focus of legal cases reacting to the Trump administration’s move to diminish two Utah national monuments. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune)

“Congress needs to assert its rightful authority to protect our national monuments in New Mexico and around the country,” Udall said. “Because if we don’t, these precious lands could be lost forever to an administration that is intent on selling them off to the highest bidder.”

Trump announced the reduction of the Utah monuments late last year. His administration said the move would open up land for economic development and jobs in the region. Trump said the move would “usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth,” according to a New York Times story on the announcement at Utah’s state capital.

Udall said if the Trump administration is allowed to move ahead with reducing the size of the Utah monuments it could set a dangerous precedent.

Congress has granted the president authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906. But Udall and others do not believe it granted the president authority to reduce or abolish national monuments.

The president’s order attempts to reduce more than two million acres of protected land – reducing the size of Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to approximately 200,000 acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.9 million acres to approximately one million acres – the largest ever elimination of public land protection in the country’s history.

Udall calls the action a direct affront to the Native American tribes “who advocated for years to designate Bears Ears, the sacred ground that is their ancestral home, as well as the small businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and local communities that rely on our thriving $887 billion recreation economy to attract jobs and tourism.”

The amicus brief has the support of New Mexico’s other Democratic senator, Martin Heinrich, and incoming U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland.

“President Trump’s unprecedented move to drastically shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah tore at the heart of America’s conservation legacy and was a direct assault on sacred lands and tribal sovereignty,” Heinrich said in an email to the Journal.

Haaland expressed her support on Twitter.

“Thank you @SenatorTomUdall and RepRaulGrijalva! I am with you,” Haaland said in a tweet.

“I stand with Senator Udall and Representative Grijalva in protecting precious national monuments, our public lands are not for sale,” Haaland said in an email to the Journal. “For many Native Americans, there are national monuments we consider sacred land. They should not be deemed chess pieces used to fuel corporate greed by the Trump administration.”

President Barack Obama established Bears Ears as a national monument in 2016. President Bill Clinton established Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in 1996.

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