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Trump Reduction of National Monuments a Rare Move

Antiquities Act has primarily been used to increase, not reduce protected areas

Part of the Bears Ears monument in Utah. (Wikimedia Commons)
Part of the Bears Ears monument in Utah. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump on Monday signed two executive actions that drastically slash the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and criticized former presidents for their use of the Antiquities Act to designate such monuments.

Trump called former President Barack Obama’s designation of Bears Ears an overreach of executive power, even as he unilaterally undid much of the designation himself. President Bill Clinton first designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument in 1996 .

At a speech at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Trump vowed to oversee a process that would tamp down on what he sees as abuses of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have used to protect environmentally and culturally significant areas.

The proclamations Trump signed reduce the nearly 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument to 1,003,863 acres, while Bears Ears, which was 1.35 million acres, will shrink to 228,800 acres.

“These abuses of the Antiquities Act give enormous power to faraway bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here, work here and make this place their home,” Trump said.

The move could open the areas to potential commercial and resource development. 

“I’m a real estate developer. When they start talking about millions of acres, I say, say it again. That’s a lot,” he told the crowd in Utah.

Trump was accompanied flanked by supporters of his move, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, whom he encouraged to seek an eighth term at the monument event

Over in the House, Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has proposed changing the Antiquities Act and also supports Trump’s actions to shrink the monuments. 

However, Native American tribes whose relationships to the monument areas date back centuries have been among the most critical of Trump’s actions.

“Bears Ears has been home to Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and other Indigenous people since time immemorial. The Bears Ears cultural landscape is important not just for objects of antiquity and fossils studied by scientists, but for the continuation of our Indigenous cultures and our way of life,” tribal leaders said in a statement on Friday.

The move is part of a broader trend in Trump’s first year in office of rolling back parts of Obama’s legacy — and of lambasting presidents past of both parties.

Conservative groups quickly praised Trump’s action, while liberal organizations and lawmakers responded with scorn as they prepped lawsuits to block the move.

“Antiquities designations have stripped economic opportunities away from communities,” Nick Loris of the Heritage Foundation said in a statement. 

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, in a letter to Zinke, criticized the move.

Trump’s decision “puts the future of these resources in jeopardy and threatens our culture, history, and heritage. And if President Donald Trump decides to use the Antiquities Act to reverse one of these monuments, he is going to be treading in uncharted waters,” Durbin told Zinke. “These monuments are for all of us, and we must ensure that they remain in their natural condition for current and future generations to enjoy.”

Last December, upon making the national monument designations, Obama said the move would “help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.”

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