Monday, 4 December, in a much anticipated announcement, US President Donald Trump called for the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument by 84%, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50%. This is just the latest in a series of assaults on cultural heritage under this administration.
In October President Trump announced that the US would pull out of Unesco. It was disheartening, to say the least. This was not an decision that went un-remarked. Many cultural groups and institutions have condemned the attacks, and both the Washington Post and the Guardian have discussed how this move is part of a larger pattern of protectionism and withdrawal from the international community – at a time when, arguably, we need international cooperation more than ever, with 21st century issues such as climate change crossing national borders.
From a purely domestic point of view, the withdrawal from Unesco is also part of a pattern by the Trump administration to shrink our public lands and restrict our ability to study, protect, and preserve our heritage sites. A little more than ten days after withdrawing from Unesco, the administration proposed a steep fee hike for 17 of the most visited national parks in the American system, with some parks facing entrance fees of $70 (£52). Sure to decrease the number of visitors, this comes on top of a proposed budget decrease of $297m. This is also an undemocratic, classist maneuver to further marginalize poorer Americans and decrease their access to public lands that they deserve to enjoy.
Which brings us back to the Unesco withdrawal. One of the most visible programs run by Unesco is the designation of World Heritage Sites – places that are recognized as significant to all humanity, which allow us to understand who we are, or possess natural values that are celebrated across the globe. The US has 23 Unesco World Heritage sites, 20 of which are operated by the National Park Service. Nearly all of our World Heritage Sites are operated by a federal agency that has had its budget and personnel cut, is facing more threats to its budget, and has a $12bn backlog of deferred maintenance, much of which is for historic sites and properties.