The Battle Over Our National Monuments: What You Need To Know

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Hispanic Access Foundation. The opinions and text are all mine.

These days, it’s hard to open a paper or catch the news without hearing about another assault on public lands. Most recently, national monuments have taken center stage, and in particular, you’ve likely heard about Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. But do you understand what is happening? Or why it affects you?

Because, here is the reality: as an outdoor-loving individual, these national monuments are more-than-likely one of your favorite places to play. And if these beautiful lands are taken away, where will we be then?

But before we get into that, let’s talk about the what:

What is going on with our national monuments?

Since Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are at the epicenter of this battle, let’s chat about those.

Many would argue that the rumble began in 1996 when President Clinton used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect almost 1.9 million acres of land in Utah; this is Grand Staircase-Escalante. It was noteworthy because this designation also nixed proposed coal mining.

President Obama designated 1.3M acres of land as Bears Ears National Monument in December, 2016, at the very end of his term. Once again, Utah officials weren’t happy.

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Why was the land protected to begin with?

It’s clear that Republican officials in Utah hugely disagreed with the designations, but it’s important to understand why President Clinton and President Obama protected the land.

Bears Ears gets its name from two distinct buttes that rise more than 2000 feet from the surrounding Colorado Plateau– just like a pair of ears! But, more important to note is that the buttes and the surrounding areas have long been considered sacred by a number of indigenous tribes. Ancient cliff dwellings have been found in the area, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many estimate that there are some 100,000 archaeological sites protected within the designation.

Grand Staircase-Escalante is no different. Thousands of prehistoric dwellings and artwork have been found within the designated land. Additionally, rock formations showcasing 4 billion years of geology can be found. In short, Grand Staircase is a mecca for geological, archaeological, and paleontological research.

Then what happened?

Nothing, until President Trump took office.

In April 2017, Trump asked Secretary of the Interior Zinke to review more than two dozen national monument designations. At the front of this push were the still-angry Republicans from Utah who felt the sting of Obama’s recent designation. The argument? That the designations protected too much land from commercial development.

When Zinke’s recommendations came back, the draft called for modifications to a dozen monuments, including shrinking Bears Ears and Escalante, along with allowing commercial fishing in both Atlantic and Pacific waters. In addition to the Utah modifications, his review also called for shrinkage of national monuments in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Maine, two marine monuments in the Pacific and another one southeast of Cape Cod.

In short, it was an assault on public lands. 

Without stepping foot in any of them, President Trump heeded Zinke’s recommendations and in early December, 2017, shrunk Bears Ears from 1.3 million acres to 228,000. Grand Staircase was shrunk by roughly half: it went from 1.9 million acres to just over 1 million.

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Why do I care?

For starters, this is just one more example of the federal government breaking promises with indigenous tribes. Additionally, shrinking these monuments erodes environmental protections and opens this pristine land up to private interests that could potentially destroy many of the natural wonders our country has to offer.

Bottom line: this is all about money. Rolling back these protections opens up the land to a myriad of potential commercial interests, including oil and gas. Is destroying our natural world really worth an increase in your bank account?

What can I do about it?

You hear it a lot, but y’all, this stuff really matters. First of all:


If you care about public lands and/or the current attack on our national monuments, do some reading beyond this blog post. Do your research; understand why this matters. There is so much mumbo jumbo rolling around on the internet so be sure to inform yourself.

Then, take some action:


We all know this, but your voice truly matters. If you disagree with what is happening to our monuments, let your officials know. Write them a letter or give them a call. If you’re still old school enough to have a fax machine, send them a fax. It doesn’t matter how you communicate your wishes but it does matter that you do so. After all, our officials are in office to represent us, amiright?



I think about this a lot with Liliana and I imagine it’s the same with all parents. We can fight the good fight now but how can we expect the same from our children if we don’t educate them on the importance of the environment and our natural world? Make sure your kiddos or friends’ kiddos know and realize that Mother Nature needs to be protected and won’t be around for all of us to enjoy if we don’t routinely act in her best interests. It’s important y’all!

national monuments





  • Reply Anthony at

    So it has nothing to do with how the land was acquired? Ya’ll act like it was voluntarily given to the feds. BLM uses unconstitutional methods to acquire public land. Argue with me.

  • Reply Patrice La Vigne at

    Great blog post Heather! I try to keep up on the whole issue, but sometimes I get confused and this help round up some of the most recent events. Thank you for being a steward to our land!!!

  • Reply Jerry McGinnis at

    Thanks for your insight on this critical issue!

  • Reply Michael Chesley Johnson at

    As a landscape painter, I do what I can to publicize and defend our public lands, especially those that give humanity a chance to reconnect with nature. National parks and monuments, more protected generally than USFS or BLM lands, should be sacrosanct. But also the forests and BLM lands need to be protected, as well as state, county and city parks. All natural areas are shrinking, thanks to overpopulation and commercial development. The fact that people these days aren’t educated enough to understand the value of letting nature “be” hurts immensely.

    Thanks for the blog post – we’re all in this together!

  • Reply Doc Dolan at

    Hey, thanks for advocating strong, responsible self-research. My first instinct is to get mad, but Honestly I could definitely use some fact finding for myself.

  • Reply Brittany Leffel at

    Thanks for this post! It’s an easy, digestible piece for people who aren’t really sure what’s going on! I do want to add that Cascade- Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon is another monument that is up for review, as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is advising that the O & C Lands inside the National Monument should not be included in protection, as he believes it should be for sustainable logging practice- not for protecting waters.

  • Reply Jessie @ Chasing Belle at

    Very well put and to the point summary of the issues! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Reply DLL at

    Disappointing that public lands are losing protection. You can draw a direct and obvious connection between the industries aided by opening public lands to commercial interests and the politicians benefiting from those industries.

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