The president stole your land, placing revered spots in peril

Molly Bailot, Managing editor

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing retailer, replaced its typical online homepage with a bold political statement. Consumers shopping for winter clothes this holiday season are greeted by an ominous black screen with a bold proclamation claiming in big white letters, “The President Stole Your Land.” Patagonia has chosen to take a stand against President Trump’s recent decision to drastically reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Wyoming. The monuments will see about an 85 percent and 45 percent decrease in size, respectively – the largest reduction of public land in U.S. history, according to NPR.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are National Monuments, differing slightly from National Parks. They’re historic sites or geographical areas set aside by the national government and maintained for public use.

Simply speaking, President Trump’s action was illegal. There is nothing in writing anywhere that gives him the power to reduce the size of a National Monument, according to the American Antiquities Act. The American Antiquities Act of 1906 states: “That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”

There’s no mention of the president having the power to destroy national monuments, only create them. Admittedly, this seems like a small loophole, easily brushed off by a matter of interpreting the act differently. But it’s not. On the level of the federal government, it’s necessary to be precise and specific when interpreting laws and making decisions based upon them. Trump’s move is entirely illegal. His opponents, armed with lawyers and court filings, indicated willingness to fight this reallocation of land all the way to the Supreme Court.

Presidents have made minor adjustments to monument boundaries, and one major reduction: in 1915, Woodrow Wilson reduced Mount Olympus National Monument almost by half. None of those excisions have occurred in the last 50 years, however, and none have ever been tested in court.

The case against this action is being led by Native American groups, CNN reports, including representatives from the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Indian tribes, because they depend on the federally protected land. Environmental conservation groups like the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, along with outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia have also filed lawsuits.

President Trump claims he wants to return the land to the people of Utah because their land shouldn’t be federally controlled. He remarked in Utah on December 4: “I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens.”

President Trump’s speech sounds promising, but his seemingly noble plan to “return the land to the people” is misguided. By removing the federal protection, he puts roughly 2 million acres at risk. Now, the state of Utah will be able to do whatever it wants with the land. There’s no promise that Utah will give it the proper protection it once had as a National Monument. They could sell the land to private owners who don’t have any obligation to preserve the historic areas. Some terrain will open to mineral and oil-and-gas extraction on an idyllic landscape that was originally protected to prevent exactly that from happening. The threat of destruction in a place that former President Obama designated as protected is an insult and a peril to the Native American tribes that depend on the land. They have every right to file a lawsuit, and it’s commendable that Patagonia and other organizations are supporting them.

Could Patagonia’s bold campaign be an effort to draw consumers to their website during the holiday season? Maybe. Even so, it’s promising to see that they at least stand in solidarity with Native Americans and environmental issues, when our own president is working against them.