Can Trump dismantle a national monument? Utah lawsuits to test that power

SALT LAKE CITY — Native American tribes and environmental groups preparing for a legal battle to stop President Donald Trump from dismantling Utah’s new national monument face a tougher challenge than anticipated.

Republican officials in the state who oppose Bears Ears National Monument asked Trump to rescind the designation. But U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended the monument be downsized instead, noting past presidents have tinkered with the boundaries of lands protected under federal law.

Legal experts disagree on whether the 1906 Antiquities Act allows a president to reduce a monument, and it’s something that has never been challenged in court.

Environmentalists and Indian tribes were ready to pounce at the notion Zinke would recommend Bears Ears be abolished, armed with their belief that no president may undo the work of another by rescinding a monument, and the fact that no president has tried.

But past presidents have trimmed national monuments and redrawn their boundaries – 18 times, according to the National Park Service.

Bears Ears, established by President Barack Obama in December, is about the size of Delaware, covering roughly 2,000 square miles (5,300 square kilometers). It protects more than 100,000 archaeological sites on what’s considered sacred tribal land in southeastern Utah.

A largely GOP group of Utah officials wants the monument repealed and see it as an overly broad, unnecessary layer of federal control that closes off the area to energy development and other access.

Republican state Rep. Mike Noel said shrinking a monument is politically and legally much easier to defend than attempting to undo one.

“There’s been enough history of downsizing, even fairly large areas, significantly large areas,” Noel said.

Many times, past presidents reduced monuments only slightly, like when Franklin Roosevelt removed about 52 acres from Arizona’s Wupatki National Monument in 1941 to make way for a dam. But occasionally the changes were drastic,…

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