The Interior Department Continues to Sell Off Public Land

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

First they came for Bears Ears, selling of 83 percent of its protected area for extraction and development, then they took nearly half of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Is the Bureau of Land Management itself next?

Within the Trump administration, public land that can be mined or drilled needs to be removed from federal protection. The Interior Department is all too eager to make that vision a reality.

Transferring public lands is a hallmark of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who Western Values Project describes as a “mega lobbyist.” In March, he issued a secretarial order that makes it abundantly clear that the BLM is considering transferring public land. The Interior Department wants to yield control of a 10-mile stretch of a road currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Utah. It has entered into a 30-day public comment period about the land transfer.

“The attempt to move control of this federal road to the state is a sly push towards a grander goal: the sell-off of America’s public lands, outdoor heritage, and ultimately, our Western way of life,” said Jayson O’Neill, Western Values Project Deputy Director. 

The Trump administration shrinks two Utah national monuments

The Interior Department released a new resource management plan last summer for Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area that opens up hundreds of thousands of acres of protected lands to mining and drilling. President Trump signed a presidential proclamation to modify the boundaries of the monument which removes protection from 861,974 acres of land from the 1.9 million acres of land that comprises the monument. That is a reduction of 47 percent.

Bears Ears National Monument is another Utah monument that the Trump administration shrunk. In December 2017, Trump issued an executive order shrinking Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to 229,000 acres, a reduction of 83 percent. The World Monuments Fund added Bears Ears to a list of endangered places to watch in 2020. The Interior Department released the proposed management plan for Bears Ears in July 2019. It will allow utility lines and access roads to be installed, recreational off-road vehicles to be used, and cattle grazing. That is all within the reduced areas. The area de-designated as a national monument will be mined and drilled under this plan.

Shrinking Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears “represents the single greatest attack a president has ever launched against America’s federal public lands,” according to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. It certainly will not be the last attack on public lands.

Does Trump seek to dismantle the Bureau of Land Management?

If removing public lands from protection or transferring them to state ownership is bad enough, the Trump administration may have dismantling the BLM as its aim. The BLM managed about 245 million acres of public land. The BLM is relocating its headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. That relocation would mean moving hundreds of staff members to state offices across the West, as Western Values Project points out. 

The BLM’s new headquarters will be in a building that houses the Chevron corporate office. That is incredibly fitting for an agency that is more concerned with encouraging drilling and mining than actually protecting public land. Being located in the same building as an oil and gas giant just makes abundantly clear what concerned citizens have known all along: This administration is on the side of the fossil fuel industry. 


News & Opinion