Politico

Trump strips monument protections from 2 million acres in Utah

Written by Lisa

President Donald Trump announced Monday that he is removing more than 2 million acres of protected territory from two national monuments in Utah, handing a political win to the state’s lawmakers but setting off more protests from environmentalists and outdoor sports groups.

“You know how best to conserve this land for many, many years to come,” Trump told a phalanx of the state’s Republican lawmakers in Salt Lake City, as he took yet another swipe at the conservation legacies of former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — and at regulators in Washington. “They don’t know your land and truly they don’t care for your land like you do. From now on that won’t matter.”

The long-expected announcement was a victory for Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Rob Bishop and other Utah Republicans who had pressed the administration to shrink the territories of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments from their combined 3.2 million acres. But Trump’s action enraged environmentalists and some Utah residents, who see the move as a first step toward allowing fossil fuel extraction near the monuments.

The planned cuts — essentially a rollback of the borders Obama and Clinton had set — was leaked to POLITICO and other news outlets last week. Obama set aside a total of more than 5.7 million acres of federal land into national monument parks, the most of any president under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The new borders would shrink the 1.353-million-acre Bears Ears down to about 201,400 acres and break it into two new monuments called Indian Creek and Shash Jaa. That would free up oil, natural gas and uranium deposits for possible extraction.

Trump would also cleave the nearly 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument into three parts, totaling 997,490 acres: Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits and Escalante Canyons. The move would free up protections over areas high in mineral resources.

Environmental groups and Native American tribes have vowed to tie up Trump’s move in courts. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance plans to file a suit “within days, if not hours,” legal director Steve Bloch said.

“The general gist of the argument regarding both national monuments is that the Antiquities Act is a limited grant of authority from Congress to the president to establish national monuments,” Bloch said. “Nowhere in the act does Congress give the president the power to revoke or diminish national monuments, and by doing so the president is acting beyond his authority and unlawfully.”

Trump is also in danger of inflaming public opinion even while he appeases the Utah congressional delegation. Besides environmentalists, hunting and fishing groups have come out against the move, including some groups that had expressed early optimism about Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Staircase Escalante in particular is troubling with a carve-out for the coal industry,” said Land Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “That carve-out is smack dab in the middle of some of the most important habitat for desert bighorn sheep and will impact that species immensely, all for some coal that will most likely be sent to China.”

Tawney had said a year ago that he hoped Trump and Zinke would oppose GOP efforts to “liquidate” federal lands. But more recently, as Zinke has carried out Trump’s review of past presidents’ monument designations, Tawney’s organization has run ads out West asking, “What Happened to Ryan Zinke?”

Oil and gas companies, which have supported Trump and his push for American energy dominance,” welcomed the shearing back of the monuments’ borders.

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