Trump outlines big cuts to Utah monuments, tribes prepare to sue

WASHINGTON/SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday shrank two wilderness national monuments in Utah by at least half in the biggest rollback of public land protection in U.S. history, drawing praise from pro-development lawmakers and threats of lawsuits from tribes and environmentalists.

Trump’s announcement followed months of review by the Interior Department after he ordered the agency in April to identify which of 27 monuments designated by past presidents should be rescinded or resized to give states and local governments more control of the land.

“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,” Trump said in the state capitol alongside Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert, the Utah congressional delegation and local county commissioners.

Unlike national parks that can only be created by an act of Congress, national monuments can be designated unilaterally by presidents under the century-old Antiquities Act, a law meant to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects.

Trump said former presidents abused the Antiquities Act by putting unnecessarily big chunks of territory off limits to drilling, mining, grazing, road traffic and other activities – a headwind to his plan to ramp up U.S. energy output.

Trump signed two proclamations after his speech. One would reduce the 1.3-million-acre (0.5 million hectare) Bears Ears National Monument, created in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama in southeastern Utah, by more than 80 percent split into two areas.

The other would cut the state’s 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, nearly in half. The landscape of canyons, ridges and rock formations would be split into three zones.

While a handful of monuments have been resized in the past, none has been cut back to such an extent, putting the president’s proclamation in uncharted legal territory. Previous presidents including Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft reduced some monuments but were never challenged in court. [L2N1L41B5]

Trump will ask Congress to look at the areas that are being removed from the current monuments to consider legislation designating some as a national conservation or national recreation areas, and create a co-management structure for tribes, an administration official said.

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