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Lesson Plans

National monuments: Whose job is it to protect public lands?

December 12, 2017

Full Lesson

Video Summary:
  1. President Donald Trump dramatically cut back the size of two national monuments in Utah last week, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, in order to rectify what he says was overreach by past administrations.
  2. In response to the announcement, several lawsuits have been filed against the Trump Administration. They state the decision violates the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the president broad legal authority to protect historic landmarks that sit on public lands.
  3. The Navajo Nation say the land has long held religious and cultural significance to indigenous peoples going back thousands of years.
  4.  One of the businesses suing the Administration is outdoor retailer Patagonia who replaced its regular home page last week with a black screen and stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”
    • Subsequently, the House Natural Resources Committee tweeted Patagonia was “lying.” Their message was echoed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who also accused Patagonia of lying about Trump’s actions and re-tweeted the committee post on his official account. Zinke’s move prompted former government ethics chief Walter Shaub to state that the interior secretary had “misused his official position by re-tweeting this wildly inappropriate tweet.”
Discussion questions:
  1. Essential questionWhose job is it to protect public lands?
  2. Why has the U.S. government taken steps throughout its history to designate public lands in a specific way?
  3. Why did the Trump Administration decide to significantly reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments? Do you agree with the decision? Why or why not?
  4. The president argued that the previous designations of the monuments amounted to
    “a federal land grab.” What does expression this mean? Whose job is it to protect public lands?
  5. Media literacy question: Social media has become a powerful tool in politics. Do you think House Republicans and Interior Secretary Zinke and Patagonia were using social media appropriately? Does it make a difference that a public official uses social media to critique others versus if a private individual or company does it? Explain your response.

Extension activity:

  1. Check out more efforts to protect public lands using Extra’s activity, Lessons in STEM from early Native Americans, based on the work ofPBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs.
    • See what connections your students can make between Utah’s Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park hundreds of miles away in Ohio. You may want to keep in mind that the United States withdrew from UNESCO in October (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the UN agency which oversees the World Heritage program.

2. Have you heard the saying ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’? How about ‘There’s always two sides to a story’? Pictures are an important tool for both adults and young people to understand the world around them. Just look at social media! Take a look at these three images below and read their captions. What picture starts to form in your mind about the national monuments issue? What could you do to find out more about the stories of the two people featured in the pieces?

A rock climber walks below a rock facing near the Indian Creek area of Bears Ears, New Mexico, U.S., October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

David Perkins says he hopes President-elect Donald Trump would reverse a possible national monument in the Bears Ears area of southern Utah after losing investors in his oil well after a push intensified for a national monument in the acres surrounding his lease west of Blanding, Utah, U.S., December 19, 2016. Picture taken December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Annie Knox

Jonah Yellowman talks with visitors on a highway pullout near the Bears Ears formations where he and fellow Navajos go to gather wood to heat their homes and pray to spirits of their ancestors in Utah, U.S. December 19, 2016. Picture taken December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Annie Knox