After Bears Ears reduction, tour operators worry that national parks are vulnerable

Valley of the Gods is no longer considered part of Bears Ears National Monument.
Valley of the Gods is no longer considered part of Bears Ears National Monument. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
For travel companies that have a considerable stake in the country's vast national parks, President Donald Trump's decision earlier this week to shrink significant portions of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments is worrisome.

They're concerned that the move sets a precedent that puts the national parks and their businesses in jeopardy.

"The administration's actions on the two national monuments in Utah is the latest in a string of national parks issues impacting the travel and tourism industry, which is undeniably concerning to our members. It begs the question, 'What's next?'" said Lisa Simon, executive director of the International Inbound Travel Association (IITA).

IITA also opposes a proposal that would double the entry fees for 17 national parks and considerably increase fees for commercial tour operators. The proposed cost increases could have serious consequences for the organization's inbound tour operators, IITA said.

On Monday, President Trump reduced the Bears Ears National Monument by more than 85% and eliminated almost half of Grand Staircase-Escalante, areas that were designated as national monuments by presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, respectively. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, presidents are allowed to designate new protected federal lands. Opponents to Trump's proclamations for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante argue that only Congress has the authority to alter or reduce those national monuments.

The administration now faces legal action. A coalition of five Native American tribes -- the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe -- filed a complaint on Monday with the D.C. District Court alleging that President Trump was without legal authority to shrink the national monuments. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia filed a lawsuit on Wednesday.

Tauck president Jennifer Tombaugh worries that President Trump's action could set a precedent for removing protections of federal lands.

"Our national parks tours have been a cornerstone of Tauck's business for 92 years. The hundreds of thousands of guests we've had to our parks from the U.S. and abroad have not only experienced awe but also created thousands of jobs and economic growth for local residents. Any move to roll back our protected spaces -- whether they're national monuments or national parks -- is something that bears monitoring. It's unprecedented, and it's hopefully not a harbinger of any similar, additional moves," she said.

Vanessa Parrish, channel marketing manager for the Globus family of brands, said that Globus, too, is concerned.

"Any decision that takes away the conservation, preservation and public access to or enjoyment and enrichment of America's national parks is of great concern to us," said Parrish.

Simon said that IITA is in the process of informing the administration and congressional representatives about the importance of the national parks as a draw for international travelers and the critical role they play in the economic wellbeing of the surrounding communities.
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