(WASHINGTON EXAMINER) — President Trump on Monday afternoon announced he will shrink Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, framing the decision as a sharp rebuke of former President Barack Obama’s abuse of executive authority to set aside public land for protection.
During a ceremony at the state capitol in Salt Lake City, Trump said he will reduce the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears, established by Obama, by 85 percent.
Grand Staircase, created by President Clinton in 1996, will be cut in half.
Trump did not visit the the monuments themselves, which are hours away from the capitol. If the moves survive anticipated legal challenges, they would represent the largest removal of national monument protection in U.S. history.
Obama created Bears Ears just before he left office, protecting a vast area of mesas and canyons in Utah’s poorest county. It is an area in the southeastern part of the state that five Native American tribes consider sacred and depend on for sustenance and cultural tradition.
Trump, shortly after his inauguration, ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to undertake a review of 27 national monuments created since 1996. In August, Zinke delivered the report to Trump, recommending he reduce the size of six of those monuments, including the two in Utah.
The president’s actions are a win for Republicans and most of Utah’s political delegation, who say previous presidents abused their authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally declare national monuments, by setting aside larger and larger swaths of public land, limiting development opportunities and stifling local control.
“I’ve become an expert in monuments and the Antiquities Act was never intended to prevent. It was intended to protect,” Zinke said in remarks at the state capitol. “Our public land is for the public to use and not special interests. This is about giving rural America a voice.”
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