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Federal Lands Protections See Historic Slashes Under Trump Administration, Study Finds

Photo of Grand Staircase.
Nate Hegyi / KUER
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was one of two national monuments reduced in size by the Trump administration in 2017.

The Trump administration is responsible for the largest reduction of federally protected land in U.S. history after it shrunk two national monuments in Utah, according to a recent study published in the journal Science.

When President Donald Trump announced he was downsizing Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in 2017, he opened up 3,144 square miles of public land to potential resource extraction, the study noted. That’s an area larger than Delaware.

The comprehensive report, authored by more than 20 international scientists and released Thursday, suggests that the Trump administration’s rollback is part of an alarming worldwide trend.

Since 2000, governments in 73 countries have eased protections on millions of square miles of forest, ocean and prairie. More than 60% of those rollbacks were to allow industrial-scale resource extraction on previously restricted lands and waters.

“The changes can represent really negative impacts,” said Maggie Holland, an associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. “Resource extraction and mining [can] really devastate the species and habitat within those areas.”

Holland, who co-authored a commentary on the study for Science, also noted that some environmental protections were eased to allow indigenous communities access to resources on traditional lands that were previously off-limits.

Trump’s downsizing of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears are currently under litigation. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet read the study, a spokesperson said.

“It's important to note that characterizing these lands as losing protection is misleading,” Molly Block, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said in an emailed statement. “These lands are, were, and will be managed by the BLM — No loss in federal protection there.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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