Summit County supports cases challenging President Trump on shrinking national monuments
The Summit County Council joined nearly 20 elected officials across the state last week who are supporting two lawsuits challenging President Trump’s decision to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Southern Utah.
A group of 21 mayors and council members from municipalities across the state, including Summit County, submitted two amicus briefs to the U.S. District Court on Nov. 19. The two cases, filed by the Wilderness Society and the Hopi Tribe, will be heard in the District Court of Washington, D.C., after a federal judge denied the administration’s attempt to have the cases moved to the Utah District Court in Salt Lake City, according to a news release.
County Council member Roger Armstrong said public lands are a “massively valuable resource” to the state and local economies. He said when people come to Utah to visit the national monuments, they often stop in Summit County.
“We believe that the monuments work well in federal hands,” he said. “We have seen what happens when those monuments are reduced. When (Grand Staircase) Escalante was reduced, a portion of it was almost immediately sold or leased to a Canadian company, and we would not like to see that kind of exploitation of what we regard as precious lands.”
In addition to signing onto the amicus briefs, the County Council is planning to submit comments to the Bureau of Land Management within the U.S. Department of the Interior about the resource management plans for the lands that were previously included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, now identified as the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area. Council members are scheduled to approve the comments on Wednesday.
The Bureau of Land Management initiated a 90-day comment period for the public to weigh in on how the lands will be managed. The deadline to submit feedback is Nov. 30.
“The federal government has offered these public comment opportunities to share their voice and opinions on how these monuments have been redrawn, but also how the government is planning to manage them,” said Deputy Summit County Manager Janna Young. “The Council is choosing to weigh in about their economic concerns and interests in preserving those sites.”
The County Council first denounced the shrinking of the national monuments and the transfer of federal public lands to the state in 2017. The elected officials passed a resolution urging Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state legislators to stop using taxpayers’ money to fund the transfer of control of those lands. As part of the resolution, the county offered its support for the continued designation of the state’s national monuments.
The Council then sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke requesting to be considered during the public comment period.
Some of the matters the Council is urging the Bureau of Land Management to consider include restricting the lands from oil and gas development, as well as mining, energy infrastructure and off-road vehicle use. The Council’s comments also suggest protecting monument objects and the wilderness.
One of the primary reasons the Council has continued to focus on the issue is because of the economic impacts the redesigned monuments could have, Young said. She said several members of the community have also approached County Council members in recent years, urging them to advocate for the national monuments.
“The Council does care very much about public lands and maintaining federal management of those lands so that they remain open to the public for recreation, and also the environmental conservation and preservation of those historic sites,” Young said. “These are federal lands. These are everyone’s lands and yes they happen to be located in other counties, but they do impact all of us.”
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.