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In spring 2018, I intend to visit Bears Ears National Monument. Not any more; President Trump has declared to reduce the size of the monument. The area I intend to visit, around the Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch, and Dark Canyon Wilderness, are no longer part of the monument. In truth, I only became aware those destinations were part of a National Monument at all when the news reported they no longer were. I'm still going to visit the area — just most of my visit won't be on a national monument.

The Forest Service reports that monuments generally preserve current uses of the land, including tribal access for traditional plant and firewood gathering and for ceremonial purposes, off-highway recreation on existing routes, grazing, hunting and fishing and water and utility infrastructure.

With that in mind, as a recreational visitor intending to do hiking and backpacking, what are the practical implications of the fact that those areas are no longer part of a National Monument? In my understanding, it will remain public land managed by BLM and the Forest Service and the wilderness areas in the area will remain wilderness areas.

  • For clarity, The enlarged monument didn't even exist until after Trump had been elected President. It was a controversial move for Obama to declare two monuments while his administration was transitioning out of office. Not many people in Utah were in favour of the expansion of the monuments, many were opposed, and there was much cheering and clapping in the State building in Salt Lake city (by Navajo Elders as well) when Trump reduced the monument size. In short, the area is as it has always been with the excepting of the last year. – ShemSeger Dec 12 '17 at 3:01
  • @ShemSeger I'm aware the monument is still very new. I understand the monument didn't exist at all until late 2016 so even after Trumps reduction it's still larger than it was. (Situation at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a bit different.) – gerrit Dec 12 '17 at 11:10
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In the US, the designation National Monument or National Park (same thing other than the first created by presidential edict and the second by congress), sets preservation as one of the top goals. The intent is land that is largely to be left alone, and not harvested for various resources.

Forest service and BLM land is intended to be "working" land. It's viewed as a national resource, although it generally has to be used in a sustainable way. Various people's and organization's view of "sustainable" differ, however, so some serious controversies can erupt.

Keep in mind that the Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture. You often see the slogan "Land of many uses" on signs as you enter and leave Forest Service land. While preservation can be a primary goal of some areas, others are managed for timber, for example. Hunting is also usually allowed, within state and local restrictions, of course.

Most of the nation's forest products come from National Forest lands. When the forest managers decide some area is ready to be harvested, they specify exactly what is allowed to be done where, and put it out for bid.

So to answer your question more directly, you as someone hiking around might notice:

  1. Timber harvesting in progress.

  2. Hunting.

  3. More back country motorized vehicle use.

  4. Fewer facilities like vistor centers and interpretive programs for educating the public about the area and its nature.

  5. Fewer restrictions on where you are allowed to go and where you are allowed to camp.

That all said, there is another designation, called a Wilderness Area1, that can exist within just about any kind of federal land. These places are strictly reserved for nature where "the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain". This is the highest form of protection in the US. No permanent structures are allowed, including roads. Trails and trail signs are allowed.

Some of the most awesome wilderness areas are within Forest Service and BLM land. These are truly places where you may take only pictures and leave only footprints, and you should be careful about the impact of the latter.

116 USC 1131-1136, Public Law 88-577, The Wilderness Act, 3 September 1964.

  • Are points 1–3 necessarily prohibited on national monuments? I thought that national monuments were in general less protected than national parks, and permitted other uses, like national preserves do. I might be mistaken. – gerrit Dec 12 '17 at 13:08
  • @gerrit: National monuments and parks have pretty much the same protection. I don't think you'll find logging on any of them, although there may have been some unusual deal made somewhere. Hunting is usually not allowed, although there are exceptions. Motorized vehicle use is generally restricted to specifically designated roads. In contrast, some parts of some National Forests are open to motorized vehicles anywhere. I wouldn't get hung up on the Monument versus Forest designation if you want to hike around. There will be plenty of solitude and wilderness experience regardless. – Olin Lathrop Dec 12 '17 at 13:13
  • I doubt hunters or loggers visit (slot) canyons much anyway… – gerrit Dec 12 '17 at 13:27
  • I saw plenty of grazing along the Hole-in-the-Rock road at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2016. This led me to believe national monuments on BLM land are less protected than national parks. My wife and I were joking turning "Land of many uses" into "Land of many patties". – gerrit Dec 12 '17 at 14:14
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    @gerrit: as I mentioned in my other comment, it's hard to accurately draw comparisons that are true for all examples, even between national monuments. Some national monuments have essentially no outdoors/wilderness component whatsoever, and exist purely due to historical significance, e.g. Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument or the Statue of Liberty. Olin's answer is generally correct, but nothing short of a massive table of every site is going to be entirely correct. – whatsisname Dec 13 '17 at 3:14

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