President Donald Trump sharply reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah on Monday by some two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.
The administration shrank Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by 85 percent, and cut another monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands.
The decision to reduce Bears Ears is expected to trigger a legal battle that could alter the course of American land conservation, putting dozens of other monuments at risk and possibly opening millions of preserved public acres to oil and gas extraction, mining, logging and other commercial activities.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Mr. Trump said, speaking at Utah’s State Capitol beneath a painting of Mormon pioneers. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”
“Together,” he continued, “we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth.”
President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears a monument in 2016, and President Bill Clinton classified Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996, using a century-old law called the Antiquities Act that grants presidents the authority to set aside landmarks and “other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
It’s possible this is the first blast in a war to decimate our national monuments entirely. Western Republicans and the fossil fuel industry want to see the Antiquities Act repealed and I think there’s little question Trump would sign such a bill, although it would be unlikely to pass Congress. The good news is that if Trump is a one-term president, it’s probable that the next Democratic president would just drop the changes. It’s going to be held up in the courts for some time. The big environmental organizations and Patagonia have already filed lawsuits. The bad news is that land protections simply aren’t safe anymore. The even worse news is that the country is open for rapacious exploitation by our most polluting corporations.