The beauty that is Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
The beauty that is Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
Photo: Getty

Donald Trump stripped Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah of their federal designations during his first year in office. State legislators applauded this move, fearing that the protections that come with this designation would hurt local economic benefits from mining, logging, and ranching.

A new study, however, paints a different picture. Published in Science Advances on Wednesday, the study finds that national monument designations don’t actually change much in the local economy—except when they grow businesses in communities closest to these federal sites. Reducing the size of these two national treasures—Bears Ears and Grand Staircase—may have actually caused the loss of some 700 jobs in nearby communities.

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The study zooms into national monuments in eight western states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. The data covers economic changes in the surrounding 15 miles of a monument from 1990 to 2015, which includes the designation of 14 monuments such as Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

Per the study, business establishments do better, on average, after a monument becomes official. This is especially true in hotel and lodging services, with a 16 percent average jobs increase, and construction, with a 17 percent increase, the study found. Business services; health services; and finance, insurance, and real estate services also saw notable increases. Industries such as mining and forestry saw no change, which goes against much of the rhetoric local Republican lawmakers in Utah put forth in opposing Bears Ears.

Private interest was ultimately behind opposition to these national protections, and these interests come from the mining and fossil fuels sectors. Emails the New York Times obtained show that the Trump administration was focused on protecting oil and gas exploration in its decision to shrink Bears Ears. Consequently, the lands are now open to those looking to extract gold, uranium, silver, and copper.

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This is despite the fact that this national monument is home to priceless indigenous artifacts and prehistoric fossils. Native American tribes were at the forefront of the efforts to designate this land under former President Barack Obama. With Trump in the White House, all their efforts went out the window. Now, their cultural and sacred sites remain threatened by the fools who decide to drive through these canyons on their ATVs, as well as the fossil fuel and mining companies that want to strip the lands of their natural resources.

That’s what makes this new study so important: It shows that the reasoning behind removing these protections was unfounded. It refutes the lie that these national monuments hurt local economies.

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“I hope these findings somewhat lay to rest the concern that monuments are going to have a negative effect and let us focus instead on other issues,” study author Margaret Walls, a senior fellow at environmental nonprofit research group Resources for the Future, told Earther.

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The jobs data comes from the National Establishment Time Series, a private database that offers data on every establishment that employs people in the U.S. Through this resource, the team of researchers were able to see physical addresses, an estimate of sales, employment data, and what industry the establishment falls under. These data points help set this study apart from earlier research looking at the economic impacts of national monument designation.

The team also compared the impacts to local economies to the changes happening in communities a little farther away. These other communities served as a control group of sorts. It helped the researchers get a sense of any larger influences that may be unrelated to the national monuments themselves. Even after controlling for this, their findings were clear: National monuments are not bad, man. They’re good, even.

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We already knew this, of course. The Grand Staircase-Escalante is home to bee species only recently discovered. These national monuments preserve wildlife habitat and key ecosystems that help pull carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. The economic benefits are but one element to how necessary these protections are—especially when humans are seemingly destroying what little untouched bits of nature we have left.

Senior staff writer, Earther. All things environmental justice, please. I'm addicted to Stardew and love few things more than I love my cat.

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