WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will announce plans next week to shrink two sprawling Utah national monuments by nearly two-thirds, reversing actions taken by Democrat Barack Obama after a years-long push by tribal leaders and environmental groups.
Leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press show that Trump plans to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85 percent and reduce Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost half. The plan would cut the total amount of land in the state’s red rock country protected under monument status from more than 3.2 million acres (5,000 square miles) to about 1.2 million acres (1,875 square miles).
The proposed changes would be the most significant reductions by any president to monument designations made under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president wide authority to protect federal sites considered historic or geographically or culturally significant.
Trump has told Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and other Utah officials that he will follow the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink both monuments, but the White House and Zinke’s office have not offered details about how they’d redraw the monument boundaries.
Trump is traveling to Utah on Monday and is expected to announce details about his plan to shrink the two monuments, the first and the largest monuments targeted for reduction by Trump after a review of monuments nationwide launched earlier this year.
Trump ordered Zinke to review 27 monuments created in the past two decades, with Bears Ears the top priority. Trump called some monument designations by his Democratic predecessors a “massive federal land grab” that “should never have happened.”
Obama created the Bears Ears monument last year after tribal leaders and environmental groups clamored for protection of about 1.3 million acres of land considered sacred by Native Americans. The land features thousands of archaeological sites, including cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.
Grand Staircase-Escalante, which includes about 1.9 million acres, was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
The Washington Post first reported on the documents, which include proclamations that will split both monuments into several smaller ones. The plan would cut the overall size of Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante from nearly 1.9 million acres to 997,490 acres.
A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said the newspaper “has very old, outdated and inaccurate information.”
The spokeswoman, Heather Swift, declined to offer any other details.
Utah’s Republican leaders, including Hatch, have said the monuments declared by Obama and Clinton unnecessarily locked up too much land and asked Trump to shrink or rescind them.
Hatch said in a statement Thursday that “details of the president’s announcement are his and his alone to share,” but added: “I appreciate his willingness to listen to my advice and even more importantly, to give the people of Utah a voice in this process.”
Trump’s action, “following Secretary Zinke’s fair, thorough and inclusive review, will represent a balanced solution and a win for everyone on all sides of this issue,” Hatch said.
Environmental groups and other opponents have promised to take the Trump administration to court to block any attempts to rescind or reduce the monument designations.
Sixteen Democratic senators have complained that Zinke’s recommendations “threaten important natural, archaeological and cultural resources,” especially Bears Ears.
Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit organization supporting indigenous communities and protection of culturally significant ancestral lands, issued a statement Wednesday claiming near-unanimous support among Navajos living adjacent to Bears Ears in San Juan County for a resolution opposing Trump’s anticipated decision.
All seven Chapter Houses – the Navajo equivalent of county governments, according to the organization – were given the opportunity to vote on the resolution, which emphasizes the importance of the Bears Ears region to community members, calls maintaining the established boundaries and purpose of the monument, and urges all to recognize and respect tribal sovereignty.
Of the 166 who voted on the resolution, three opposed it, according to Utah Diné Bikéyah. One Chapter House and 12 individuals abstained from voting.
The organization’s statement said that one Navajo elected official, San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, supports changes to Bears Ears. However, the seven-member Navajo Utah Commission and the 24-member Navajo Nation Council unanimously oppose them, according to the statement.
“The Utah Navajos have spoken loud and clear,” Willie Grayeyes, the organization’s chairman, said. “President Trump, you already recognized the contributions of Native American Code Talkers. Let’s continue this dialogue and support Bears Ears and honor the many contributions of tribes. Please listen to Native American leaders and respect the reasons we have protected Bears Ears. Please leave it alone and allow us all to heal.”
Written by MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press
St. George News contributed to this story.
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