A group of 21 mayors and council members from around Utah submitted two amicus briefs with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, supporting the cases challenging President Trump’s decisions to shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante (GSE) and Bears Ears National Monuments.
The two cases, The Wilderness Society, et al. v. Donald J. Trump and Hopi Tribe, et al. v. Donald J. Trump, will be heard in the D.C. Court after a federal judge denied the Trump Administration’s attempt to have the cases moved to the Utah District Court in Salt Lake City.
The two amicus briefs were drafted by the Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic and the Salt Lake City Attorney’s Office at the request of Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Town of Boulder (Utah) Mayor Steve Cox, Town of Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen, and Town of Springdale Council Member Randy Aton. 18 additional council members from Alta, Moab, Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake County also signed the briefs.
“When the Trump Administration began its review of Bears Ears and Escalante, many of us knew it was only a matter of time before these Monuments were reduced and harm would come to our local economies,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “In Salt Lake City’s case, this harm was almost immediate with the departure of Outdoor Retailer and the $45 million dollars in tourist spending that it brought. The truly devastating part of this decision, however, is to our gateway communities and the State’s entire reputation, which is why we are filing these briefs, to give everyone a voice in a decision which has consequences for every community.”
The two amicus briefs argue that the Trump Administration’s decision to shrink the two Monuments will significantly harm local economies statewide, undermines efforts by local communities to shift from carbon-based fuels, damages the State’s reputation as a place for public lands-focused tourism, and were made with only select input from community members hostile to the two Monuments.
“I served on the Boulder Town Council for six years prior to becoming mayor in January and during the entire time I have been an elected official, there has been no effort to involve the Town of Boulder in any decision about Grand Staircase-Escalante,” said Mayor Steve Cox, who joined the GSE brief. “As a gateway community, our local economy has stabilized around the tourism from the Monument and we can’t support the return of boom and bust mining economy.”
The GSE brief highlights that while Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke refused to meet with members of the Escalante and Boulder Utah Chamber of Commerce—even after the group traveled to Washington, D.C.—a comprehensive report on GSE’s oil, gas, coal, and extractive mineral potential was ordered as part of the decision-making process. While in Utah, Secretary Zinke spent only four days visiting the Monument, meeting privately with a handful of local officials all hostile to the Monument.
“When Secretary Jewell was reviewing the potential of creating the Bears Ears Monument, she spent countless hours speaking with local groups and getting an understanding of the unique area we cherish,” said Mayor Ann Leppanen, who joined the Bears Ears amicus brief. “The Monument is our backyard and we proudly proclaim that ‘Bears Ears Starts Here.’ Had Secretary Zinke spent a couple of days down here in Bluff listening to our concerns, and not just with Monument opponents in San Juan County, he may have understood how important this place is to us and the responsible economy we hope to foster.”
In November 2017, after a year-long process which began as President Obama was considering designating Bears Ears a national monument, the residents of Bluff voted to incorporate. This incorporation and the monument designation made the Town of Bluff Utah’s newest ‘gateway community.’ Town leaders and Monument supporters also opened an official Bears Ears Education Center in Bluff and San Juan County launched the “Make it Monumental” campaign in an effort to drive tourism to the region.
The Bears Ears brief highlights the economic potential brought by proximity to public lands, particularly National Monuments and Parks. The 85% reduction of the Monument has the potential to severely undermine Bluff’s economic opportunities. According to the BLM, nearly one-million people visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument annually, most using the gateway communities as a starting point. The brief argues that the communities surrounding Bears Ears could have expected a similar increase in the coming years—bringing jobs and tourism revenue. A 2013 study also found that counties in western states with at least 100,000 acres of protected public lands have an average per capita income that is $4,360 higher than counties without such land.
“Being a gateway community in Utah is an incredible responsibility and opportunity which can increase the quality of life for an entire region,” said Town of Springdale Council Member Randy Aton who joined both briefs. “Our town depends on Zion National Park, and for more than one-hundred years we have developed a culture and way-of-life which has benefited both the visitors of the park, local residents, and the State’s economy.”
President Trump’s attempt to rescind Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments will eliminate two-million acres of protections, the largest rollback of federal protected lands in American history. The amicus briefs filed by Utah’s local officials will join 7 others from Members of Congress, National Congress of American Indians, state Attorneys General, legal scholars, archaeologists, members of the Outdoor Alliance, and the National Park Conservation Association.
“This is important, these lands are what help define who we are as Utahns—a sacred trust meant to be passed down through the generations,” said Mayor Biskupski. “We must do all we can to protect them.”