No hypothetical threats, these

My Artdog Images of Interest for most of this month have focused on places of natural wonder that are under threat, with the hope that–if we’re working to build a better future–they still can be preserved. Mining hasn’t happened at the Grand Canyon yet. No one has begun to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge . . . yet.

Grand Escalante, at left in blue, with a significantly reduced footprint; the decimated Bears Ears at right in red.

Unfortunately, my subjects today aren’t under hypothetical threatThe Very Stable Genius in Chief has already decimated two national monuments in Utah, with great fanfare and self-congratulation for rolling back a “massive federal land grab,” and striking a blow for “states’ rights.”  (Side note: Ever notice how it was “opening the West,” when Europeans invaded tribal homelands, but it’s a “massive federal land grab” when white ranchers’ or mineral developers’ access is restricted?)

It should be no surprise that indigenous groups, including the Navajo Nation, and environmentalists have launched protests and filed lawsuits, but were not consulted when the boundaries were redrawn.

Granted, some of the more spectacular sites, such as the Dry Fork Slot Canyons, (including PeekaBoo and Spooky, featured in the video above) and the Toadstool Hoodoos still remain in Wilderness Study Areas, and thus are mostly still protected from development.

A somewhat unique view of the Toadstool Hoodoos, still in a Wilderness Study Area (no thanks to Mr. Trump).

Other areas? Not so much. Despite the economic stimulus brought to southern Utah by a tourism boom after President Clinton’s designation of the Kaiparowits Plateau (with its Late Cretaceous “Dinosaur Shangri-La” fossil beds) as part of Grand Escalante National Monument, Mr. Trump’s administration seems to have listened only to the mining and oil interests who have long bemoaned “that the Staircase monument has strangled economic development in Kane and Garfield counties for the past 21 years.” The area is now available once again for renewal of dormant oil and gas leases, or the granting of new ones.

If you follow paleontology at all, you probably already know about the Kaiparowits Plateau, the scene of many important finds over the last two decades since Clinton protected them. Just last October, paleontologists announced a major new find. “With at least 75 percent of its bones preserved, this is the most complete skeleton of a tyrannosaur ever discovered in the southwestern US,” said Dr. Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Future finds such as this newly-discovered Tyrannosaur skeleton may soon be at risk from nearby mineral development.

Equally endangered are many ancient cultural sites in places such as the Dark Canyon Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, and the White Canyon area, which are now more open to less-restricted public access, along with the near-certainty of looting and vandalism“Only a very small part of this area has been subject to a cultural resources inventory,” Tim Peterson, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust told Nadja Popovich of the New York Times in December.

Not-so-protected petroglyphs from what used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument–photo by Mason Cummings.
Cliff dwellings such as this one in the Dark Canyon Wilderness are now more vulnerable to looting and vandalism, much to the dismay of local tribal groups and others concerned with preserving cultural sites in the area that until recently was part of Bears Ears National Monument.

We may never know everything we stand to lose, in the wake of this Trumpian downsizing move. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned so much–but which appears to be another likely result–is the loss of wildlife corridors, particularly because there will be fewer restrictions on development.

So–is all now lost? No. Environmental and tribal groups already have already filed lawsuits to block Trump’s changes to these two monuments. If you feel strongly about this, two immediate paths of action are available.

First, donate to groups such as The Sierra Club or Natural Resources Defense Council, which are among the ten environmental groups that have filed suit, or the Native American Rights Fund, which CNN reported is representing the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute in the lawsuit.

Second, write or call your representatives in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, to let them know your opinion. They can’t directly block an executive action, but they do have to weigh in on any changes to Wilderness Study Areas, among other things, and they are in charge of funding decisions. Contrary to the intransigence I often receive from the three men who purport to represent me in Washington (Rep. Kevin Yoder, Sen. Pat Roberts, and Sen. Jerry Moran), SOME people’s elected representatives even listen to them!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Salt Lake Tribune for the map showing original and shrunken outlines of the two national monuments (the article was written before the official changes, but the maps turned out to be pretty accurate). I also am grateful to Climb Utah and YouTube for information and the imagery from the Dry Fork Slot Canyons; to TripAdvisor’s article about the Toadstool Hoodoos for the photo of that feature (check the page for many more photos!); and to the Natural History Museum of Utah, for the photo of the newly-discovered tyrannosaur fossil from the Kaiparowits Plateau. Many thanks also to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and photographer Mason Cummings, for the photo of petroglyphs in one of the newly-exposed areas that used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument, and to the US Forest Service, via Howard Myerson’s “The Outdoor Journal,” for the photo of a cliff dwelling in the Dark Canyon Wilderness.

Published by

jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

Leave a Reply