Utah delegates applaud Trump national monuments order

Source: The Spectrum

Calling it a first step that could eventually lead to either the elimination or downsizing of Utah’s two largest national monuments, Utah officials applauded President Donald Trump Wednesday for signing an executive order to review the monument status of two decades worth of monument designations.

With a number of Utah officials in attendance, Trump said he’d talked to a number of western officials “who care very much about preserving our land and who are gravely concerned about this massive land grab.”

“It’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place,” he added.

The order covers 21 years of proclamations beginning in 1996, bookending two of the most controversial designations in recent history, both of which reside in Utah: the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and the Bears Ears National Monument designated by President Barack Obama late last year.

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who sponsored a legislative resolution calling for federal action to reconsider the designations, joined a number of state officials in raising expectations that the review process could lead to something more.

“This is the first step in the process of reviewing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to ensure that the antiquities are preserved, while keeping the lands accessible to the Native Americans and citizens,” he said.

The order gives Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke 45 days to recommend possible changes or a rescission of Bears Ears, along with potential changes to more than two dozen other monuments.

Zinke had said earlier in the week that Trump’s order for a review doesn’t mean there are any predetermined outcomes, stressing that the order does not strip any monument designations.

“The executive order does not loosen any environmental or conservation regulation on any land or marine areas,” he said. “It’s a review of the last 20 years.”

But conservation advocates were sounding alarms about the potential loss of protections for places like Bears Ears.

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, called the order an “opening salvo” in an unprecedented attack on public lands, saying Trump betrayed the partiality of the review process with his remarks during the signing ceremony.

“Trump repeatedly mentioned Bears Ears, saying ‘never should have been done,'” Groene said. “And the White House advisory on the executive order specifically calls out Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as ‘two examples of modern abuses of the Antiquities Act.'”

Groene and others vowed to combat any efforts to rescind the monuments.

The Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, which pushed for the Bears Ears designation, launched a campaign to gather signatures asking Zinke to keep monument status.

“Today’s action puts the coal industry and corporate interests ahead of Utahns and future generations,” said Madison Hayes, content manager for Alliance for a Better Utah.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who traveled last week to San Juan County, said he has held multiple meetings with Trump and Zinke to discuss potential plans for altering the Bears Ears monument.

“When President Obama designated the Bears Ears monument in December, he did so ignoring the voices of Utah leaders who were united in opposition, and even more importantly, ignoring the voices of the local Utahns most affected by this massive land grab,” Hatch said.

The rest of Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation was in agreement.

“Over the years, the original intent of the Antiquities Act has morphed well beyond the original intent of the Act, which was to preserve the ‘smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,'” said U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican who represents the state’s 2nd District, including the southwestern corner of the state. “These land grabs occur with no input from Congress or the local communities most impacted by the designations.”

Trump mentioned Hatch during the signing ceremony, saying the senator would “call me and call me” encouraging him to look at the Bears Ears designation.

“He’s shocked I’m doing it, but I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” Trump said.

Either Congress or the president can protect federal land by designating a national monuments, with the 1906 Antiquities Act giving the president authority to quickly preserve land without waiting for legislation from Congress. There were 129 monuments nationwide at the start of the year, with recent presidents tending to designate more land than most of their predecessors. George W. Bush and Obama each designated more than 200 million acres as monument lands.

The Bears Ears designation was especially contentious in recent years, with many Utah officials comparing it to the Grand Staircase-Escalante designation two decades earlier.

Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, both Utah Republicans, co-sponsored legislation that would have carved out smaller pieces of land for protection, but the bill didn’t pass.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante monument covers 1.9 million acres of mostly wild lands in the south-central part of the state. Bears Ears lies farther toward the state’s southeastern corner and includes 1.4 million acres of mountains, canyonlands and archaeological sites.

A coalition of tribal leaders, conservation groups, archaeologists and others pushed for the Bears Ears designation, arguing the PLI would protect less land and allow more destructive practices like mining, but most local elected officials opposed it.

Read Spectrum article here.

Scroll to Top
Better Utah is covering the Utah Legislature's 2024 General Session
Sign up for our daily legislative updates