Salt Lake City—President Donald Trump signed two proclamations cutting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments Monday.
Trump signed the proclamations at the Utah State Capitol in a short visit to the Beehive State. Through the proclamation, Bears Ears, a 1.3 million-acre area designated as a national monument last December by President Barack Obama, will be cut into two units—one named Shash Jáa, which is Navajo for Bears Ears, and the other named Indian Creek—which together will encompass 228,784 acres of land. Grand Staircase-Escalante Staircase, a nearly 1.9 million-acre national monument designated as such by President Bill Clinton in December 1996, will be cut to just over 1 million total acres and split into three areas.
“I know all of you feel blessed to be living among some of the most glorious natural wonders anywhere in the world. You cherish Utah’s gleaming rivers and sweeping valleys. You take inspiration from its majestic peaks. And when you look upon its many winding canyons and glowing vistas, you marvel at the beauty of God’s great creation,” said President Trump. “And that is why I’m here today: Because some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong.”
“Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away. They don’t know your land, and truly, they don’t care for your land like you do. But from now on, that won’t matter. I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens,” he added.
The proclamations were part of Trump’s ongoing efforts to review areas designated under the Antiquities Act, as per an executive order he signed in April. The executive order is limited to the review of monuments designated after Jan. 1, 1996 and over 100,000 acres in size or that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke deems to have been created without adequate public input, according to a release from the White House.
Trump’s actions were met with polarized reactions. Several government leaders supported the action, including Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who said in a 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.”
Meanwhile, a rally was held Saturday at the Utah State Capitol protesting the planned visit and proclamation, and protesters stopped traffic in downtown Salt Lake on State Street Monday.
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, released a statement in which he said, “Today’s illegal proclamations by President Trump represent the single greatest attack a president has ever launched against America’s federal public lands. It is certain that the legacies of both President Trump, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who goaded him into this despicable act, will be forever tainted by their assault on more than two million acres of Utah’s wild lands that are beloved by the American public.”
Groene added, “SUWA is committed to defending these monuments in court, and confident that today’s political action will be overturned. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments will be restored to their full glory, and President Trump’s action today will be remembered as another failed attempt to thwart the will of the American people, who want these lands to remain protected.”
Trump also recognized the attendance of representatives from the Navajo Nation at the proclamation-signing ceremony and later said, “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.”
Leaders of five American Indian tribes, including the Navajo Nation, later released a statement stating that Trump did not consult with them regarding the re-designation.
“The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in the statement. “The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction to the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.”
“We have direct ties to the Bears Ears region, and this area is immensely important to us. We wanted to educate President Trump about our connection to Bears Ears, but he ignored our request,” added Harold Cuthair, Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman, in the statement. “We will not stand by and let this happen without a fight.”
Legal action is expected in reaction to the proclamation.