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Trump rolls back federal protections on Utah lands

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/4/2017 Gregory Korte
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Video by Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Trump signed two proclamations Monday shrinking federally protected lands in Utah in the largest rollback of federally protected lands in history.

The Bears Ears National Monument will shrink to 220,000 acres from its current 1.5 million-acre size, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be cut in half to about 1 million acres, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said. 

Trump's decision to roll back federal protections marks an unprecedented use of presidential power to shrink the national monument designations made by two of his predecessors. 

Trump said previous administrations overstepped their authority in declaring vast tracts of western lands off limits to use and development, abusing the "purpose, spirit and intent" of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. That law requires presidents to limit the monument designation to "the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected."

"These abuses of the Antiquities Act give enormous power to faraway bureaucrats at the expense of people who work here, live here, and make this place their home," Trump said at the Utah State Capital in Salt Lake City. "Because we know that people who are free to use their land and enjoy their land are the people who are most determined to preserve their land."

Zinke had recommended that Trump vastly reduce the size of the monuments, stripping them of federal protections and instead turning over stewardship to state and tribal governments.

More: Interior report recommends that Trump downsize Bears Ears monument

More: Trump executive order could rescind national monuments

More: 24 national monuments threatened by Trump's executive order

Ranchers, local governments and some tribal leaders and other residents have applauded Trump's decision. Environmental and most tribal groups have condemned the decision and promised to fight it in court, questioning whether the president can rescind a national monument without an act of Congress.

Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, national monuments can be designated either by Congress or the president. President Barack Obama was particularly active in designating new and expanded monuments, bringing more land and water under federal protection than any president in history.

Trump signed an executive order in April asking for a review of his predecessors' use of the to designate federal lands as national monuments. That designation can protect those lands from development, mining and drilling. 

Zinke said his review looked at 150 monuments, with 27 getting the most scrutiny. The details of that report will be released Tuesday, he said.

Trump's proclamations specifically targeted two monuments in Utah:

► Bears Ears National Monument, designated by President Barack Obama by proclamation a year ago. The monument now encompasses 1.5 million acres in southern Utah, including the distinctive twin mesas that give the monument its name. The Bears Ears and surrounding sites are considered sacred to many American Indian tribes.

► Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The site in southern Utah contains a series of escalating canyons and gorges, and at 2 million acres is the largest land area designated as a national monument.

With typical Trumpian flair, the president had hyped the announcement as "one of the great, really, events in this country in a long time."

Before making the announcement at the Utah State Capital Monday afternoon, Trump is scheduled to meet with Mormon leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and tour Welfare Square, the Mormon social services complex.

 

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