WASHINGTON — Flanked by a group of Utah officials at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, President Donald Trump on Monday signed a pair of proclamations to dismantle two of the state’s national monuments — a move that opens the door for oil, gas and other development on public land that has been protected.
The boundary of Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.35 million-acre landscape named after a pair of buttes and home to thousands of Native American archeological and cultural sites, will shrink by about 85 percent. The 1.87 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the largest land national monument in the country, will be cut roughly in half.
“I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and return the rights of this land to your citizens,” Trump said during his speech.
The action — the largest reduction of national monuments in history — follows an administrative review of recent monument designations that Trump launched in April. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said early on that “there is no predetermined outcome on any monument,” but the criticism he and Trump have made in regard to several recent designations left many wondering whether the review was mostly for show.
There was absolutely no consultation with our nation in advance of this decision. Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation
The president will no doubt face a slew of legal challenges over the new proclamations, most notably from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The group of five Native American tribes petitioned for Bears Ears to be given monument status.
Ethel Branch, the attorney general for the Navajo Nation, told reporters in a call ahead of Trump’s trip to Utah that the looming announcement was “absolutely shocking” and totally “disrespectful” of the decades of work that went into establishing Bears Ears.
“There was absolutely no consultation with our nation in advance of this decision. We were greatly upset by that,” Branch said. “And ultimately, the president doesn’t have authority to take the steps he seeks to take on Monday. We plan to challenge that in court.”
Presidents have reduced the size of monuments before ― in 1915, for instance, Woodrow Wilson trimmed…