ST. GEORGE — President Donald Trump signed proclamations Monday to formally scale back two sprawling national monuments in Utah: Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante.
The proclamations reduce Bears Ears from about 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante from nearly 1.9 million acres to just over 1 million acres.
Read the full proclamations here:
- Presidential Proclamation Modifying the Bears Ears National Monument
- Presidential Proclamation Modifying the Grand StaircaseEscalante National Monument 2
Trump traveled to Salt Lake City to make Monday’s long-awaited announcement and sign the proclamations, a move supported by Utah’s top Republican officials but opposed by some tribal members and environmental groups.
Trump said Monday while leaving the White House that the monument reduction is “so important for states’ rights and so important for the people of Utah.”
In a televised broadcast of his speech at the Utah Capitol, Trump said past presidential administrations had “severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act,” a federal law that allows them to protect public lands by turning them into national monuments.
“This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments,” he said.
The past designations have led to “harmful and unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching and responsible economic development,” Trump said, adding:
We have seen grazing restrictions prevent ranching families from passing their businesses and beloved heritage on to the children, the children that they love. We’ve seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities and the fact that they’ve done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington. We have seen needed improvements like infrastructure upgrades and road maintenance impeded and foreclosed. We have seen how this tragic federal overreach prevents many Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke accompanied Trump aboard Air Force One to Utah, as did Utah’s Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both of whom pressed the president to order review and downsize the monuments for locking up too much public land. Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the protections, saying his order would end “another egregious abuse of federal power” and “give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs.”
In his speech at the Utah Capitol Monday, Trump said his administration would assure protection of the country’s national treasures through a “truly representative process, one that listens to the local communities, that knows the land the best and that cherishes the land the most.”
“We will not only give back your voice over the use of this land,” he said, “we will also restore your access and enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use.”
Protests were organized around the state, including some 3,000 people lined up along the steps of the Utah State Capitol and a gathering of about 50 people in St. George. Those at the Capitol were vocal, holding signs like “Keep your tiny hands off our public lands” and chanting “Lock him up.”
Others welcomed the president’s arrival in Utah and praised the proclamations.
A handful of counter-protesters gathered in Salt Lake in support of the decision, among them Jason Lutu of Lehi who works in construction and says he’s in favor of potential drilling or mining that could create jobs.
The president emerged from Air Force One in Salt Lake City to the adulation of an assembled ropeline crowd, according to White House Press travel pool reports. After greeting state officials, he made his way to the ropeline where he seemed to enjoy one family in particular with a Trump-impersonating son wearing a blond wig and makeup. The teen was accompanied by another teen impersonating Vice President Mike Pence.
“I like this kid, I like this kid!” Trump said of his young impersonator.
Before making his historic announcement at the Capitol, the president visited with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and toured the church’s Welfare Square, which provides aid to the poor.
“This state has many natural treasures but its greatest treasure by far is its people,” Trump said in his address at the Capitol, “and we will ensure the right of the people to live according to the faith in their hearts, which is why we will always protect your religious liberty.”
The governor issued his statement following the ceremony.
“By acting on Secretary Zinke’s thoughtful recommendations, President Trump has restored balance to our public lands discussion,” Herbert said. “We are pleased that Utahns once again have a voice in the process of determining appropriate uses of these public lands that we love. By reducing these super-sized monuments to a size consistent with the intent of the law, new doors of dialogue have opened up that will allow thoughtful, long-term protection of these federal lands. Federal, state, local and tribal officials can now convene to craft legislation for appropriate special protections and responsible recreational uses.”
Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, attending the ceremony and joining the president on Air Force Once for the return trip to Washington, issued the following statement:
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument resides in my district. I have seen firsthand the damage that the monument has caused to the local economy. My constituents have been in a desperate need of change, and today President Trump delivered.
“President Trump had the courage that no other president had. He listened to local voices that had been left out of the decision-making process for too long. On behalf of the county commissioners, the state legislators who represent the area, and the entire federal delegation, we say thank you, Mr. President.
San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, a Native American attending the signing ceremony, expressed her gratitude.
“Thank you Secretary Zinke for coming to San Juan, Kane,and Garfield counties and listening to the local grassroots people. Your boots on the ground approach was unexpected, but well received and appreciated,” Benally said. “Thank you Senator Hatch. You and your staff have been champions for us. Thank you for never giving up. For believing we could rectify a wrong and for being a fighter for San Juan County and our people. Thank you President Trump. Thank you for not being a typical politician and passing us over. Thank you for caring about San Juan County. We may be only 15,000 strong, but we matter. We appreciate you willing to take the backlash from the special interest groups as you stand for the people and the economy of San Juan County.”
San Juan County Commission Chairman Bruce Adams also attended the ceremony, after which the president signed his cowboy hat that read, “Make San Juan County Great Again.”
Others are not so optimistic.
In Southern Utah, local activists led by a group called the Great Old Broads and the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners protested in St. George Monday morning, urging the president to not sign the executive orders. Chris Gorzalski, co-leader of the Southern Utah chapter of the group, expressed concern that the reduction would lead to extraction on the public lands, despite Zinke’s insistence that the move wasn’t an energy issue.
Zinke said Monday there is coal in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area but no coal or oil in Bears Ears.
Board president of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Noel Poe called Monday “a sad day for the history of Grand Staircase Escalante.”
“What we’re losing is some valuable real estate there,” Poe said. “The landscape. The paleontological resources, a lot of them are outside what will be left of the monument. Particularly the marine resources. Down by Big Water, Church Wells and that area.”
His group is prepared to take this to the courts, Poe said.
Organizations and businesses that are voicing displeasure with the president’s proclamations include the National Parks Conservation Association, retailer Patagonia, the Sierra Club and leaders of the five tribal nations that advocated for the creation of Bears Ears as a national monument.
The move by Trump marks the first time in a half century that a president has attempted to undo these types of land protections. Information provided by The White House indicates presidents have modified the boundaries to remove lands from monuments 18 times in the past. The most significant reduction occurred in 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson halved Mount Olympus National Monument, which is now a National Park.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes applauded the proclamations, but noted in a statement issued after the ceremony:
Over the history of the Antiquities Act, national monuments have been reviewed and modified by subsequent presidents. It is no surprise, given the disproportionate original designations, that President Trump would reduce these monuments to be more consistent with the intent of the Antiquities Act. Such remedial measures would not be necessary if Congress would clarify the limits of initial monument designations. I echo the statement of Secretary Zinke that executive power under the Act is no substitute for congressional action. We are hopeful that our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. will pass legislation that makes political games with Utah’s public lands less likely in the future.
AP Congressional Correspondent CATHERINE LUCEY, Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Michelle L. Price in Salt Lake City and Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas in Washington also contributed to this report.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and reporter Ric Wayman contributed to this report from St. George.
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