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Utah national monuments shrinking finalized
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Southern Utah monuments in danger of disappearing?

The Interior Department has finalized management plans for Bears Ears National Monument (pictured above) and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

KANAB, Utah — A pair of Southern Utah monuments are being subject to dangerous pollutants, according to a state conservation group.

Both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument have long been the topic of debate.

At the heart of the conversation is how much land should be protected and what activities should be allowed near the protected areas.

Shrinking size

In recent years, the amount of protected area has progressively shrunk.

“Bears Ears National Monument went from 1.3-million-acres under President Obama to roughly 200,000-acres under President Trump,” explains Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

In addition to its natural beauty, a number of Native American nations consider the land to be sacred.

“This is one of the wildest, quietest [and] darkest landscapes in the nation,” he says.

Conservation groups have not only grown weary of the shrinking size of the Southern Utah monuments, but also the destructive activity that is happening in close proximity.

Bloch says areas that used to be protected are quickly being developed. Those activities don’t happen in a bubble and have long-reaching effects that can negatively impact protected land.

“Now the priority on those lands is new leasing for coal, for oil, gas, new hard rock mining,” he says. “There’s going to be water and air pollution.”

Both sides of the debate

Meanwhile, the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have pushed back on this narrative. They say the nearby lands are still protected by federal environmental laws.

“With these decisions, we are advancing our goal to restore trust and be a good neighbor,” says Casey Hammond with the Interior Department.

Grand Staircase was first designated as a national monument in 1996 by President Clinton. While twenty years later President Obama established Bears Ears.

For conservation groups, like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, these proposed developments will negate the work done in the past.

“These outstanding dark-night skies [and] the silence that encompasses this area, that’s all going to change,” says Bloch.