SALT LAKE CITY — President Trump today signed proclamations cutting the acreage of two national monuments in southern Utah, excising more than 2 million acres from them in the largest-ever reversal of federal monument protections.
Flanked by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Trump undid protections for 85 percent of the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument and nearly half of the 1.9 million acres in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington, and guess what, they're wrong," said Trump, who signed the proclamations inside the Utah State Capitol.
"They don't know your land, and truly they don't care for your land like you do," he added. "But from now on, that won't matter."
According to details provided by the Interior Department, the proclamations will retain both monuments' existing monikers but will divide the sites into five smaller units.
Grand Staircase-Escalante will become the Grand Staircase Unit of about 210,000 acres, the Kaiparowits Unit of 551,000 acres and the Escalante Canyons Unit of 243,000 acres.
The Bears Ears National Monument will be comprised of the Indian Creek Unit with 72,000 acres and Shash Jaa Unit with about 130,000 acres.
Environmental and conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Sierra Club's Utah chapter protested outside the Utah State Capitol, which remained under heightened security for the president's visit.
Members of the five Native American tribes who lobbied to establish the Bears Ears monument vowed last week to immediately file a lawsuit challenging Trump's actions (Greenwire, Dec. 1).
The groups argue that while presidents have the authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish monuments to protect federal land with historic, scientific or cultural value, the law does not grant presidents the power to reduce those sites.
Although presidents have previously redrawn the boundaries of monuments — totaling about 461,000 acres, according to National Park Service data, about one-fourth of the land excised by Trump today — none of those actions has ever been challenged in court.
"Trump's unprecedented, illegal action is a brutal blow to our public lands, an affront to Native Americans and a disgrace to the presidency," said Center for Biological Diversity Public Lands Program Director Randi Spivak. "He wants to hand over these lands to private industry to mine, frack, bulldoze and clear-cut until there's nothing left for our children and grandchildren."
President Obama created the Bears Ears monument in late 2016, drawing the ire of Utah lawmakers who had failed to protect a similar area via legislation known as the Public Lands Initiative. Utah state and federal officials have also long been critical of the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument created by President Clinton in 1996.
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