President Donald Trump flew from Washington D.C. to Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday to announce that he will sign presidential proclamations which cut back the national monument designations of two massive land forms in favor of development and fossil fuel drilling.
“Today, on the recommendation of Secretary (Ryan) Zinke, and with the wise counsel of Senator (Orrin) Hatch, Senator (Mike) Lee and the many others, I will sign two presidential proclamations,” Trump said during his speech. “These actions will modify the national monuments designations of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.”
Trump touted the “national treasures” of Utah, and said that taking back a significant portion of Bears Ears, millions of acres of land which were designated as a national monument by President Barack Obama, went far in doing so.
“Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control,” Trump said.
Here’s what you need to know about Bears Ears and Trump’s announcement:
1. Trump’s Expected to Announce the Reduction of as Much as 92 Percent of the Monument
An article by The New York Times provided further detail into Trump’s proclimations. Citing Republican Senator Hatch of Utah, The Times reported that the plan is for Trump to announce that he’ll shrink the monument by between 77 and 92 percent. If it happens, it would be the largest reduction of a national monument ever and it would come after the Trump administration continues to push for more development on public lands.
The proclamation is expected to be met with an intense legal battle that “could alter the course of American land conservation,” The Times reported, saying that it could open up millions of acres of public land to oil and gas extraction and mining.
Trump said during his speech: “Our precious national treasures must be protected and they, from now on, will be protected.”
The Navajo Nation released a statement following Trump’s remarks, saying they made “repeated requests” to meet with Trump on the issue but were largely ignored.
“The decision to reduce the size of the monument is being made with no tribal consultation,” Trump said. “The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.”
2. Bears Ears Measures 1.3 Million Acres in Size & Is Home to Many Natural Resources
Bears Ears contains 1,351,849 acres of largely-undeveloped land. It contains numerous natural resources and is the home to about 100,000 archaeological sites. It also has many historic and cultural symbols. It’s highlighted by its two massive buttes called the Bears Ears and is managed by both the United States Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service along with a group of five Native American tribes who have ties to the region. Those groups are the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and the Pueblo of Zuni.
A significant number of Puebloan cliff dwellings from more than 3,500 years ago have been discovered within the region. In a 2015 report documenting the importance of the land in an effort to get it recognized as a national monument, Bears Ears was described as being a “resilient landscape” which Navajo people called “Nahodishgish,” or “a place to be left alone.”
In 2016, Bears Ears was named as one of The National Trust’s “11 Most Endangered Places.”
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is located in southern Utah and covers 1.8 million acres of land. President Bill Clinton designated the area as a national monument in 1996. By doing so, it became the first monument to be managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management other than the National Park Service.
3. Bears Ears Was Made a National Monument by Obama
Bears Ears is located in San Juan County in southeastern Utah and was established as a national monument following an official proclamation by President Obama on December 28, 2016, one of the last things he did while in office. Read part of the proclamation below:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 320301 of title 54, United States Code, hereby proclaim the objects identified above that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be the Bears Ears National Monument (monument) and, for the purpose of protecting those objects, reserve as part thereof all lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation. These reserved Federal lands and interests in lands encompass approximately 1.35 million acres. The boundaries described on the accompanying map are confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.
Obama — and Trump — was able to do so because of The Antiquities Act, signed by President Roosevelt in 1906. The act gave presidents the authority to protect designated areas as much as they pleased. Until the Trump administration took over, no president had ever used the act to eliminate or reduce the size of a monument.
Trump said during his speech that Obama proclaiming Bears Ears as a national monument came at over the “loud objections” of Utah residents and their representatives.
“The results have been very sad and very predictable,” Trump said. “Here and in other affected states, we have seen harmful and unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching and responsible economical development.”
4. Ryan Zinke Filed a Report Expressing the Need to Shrink the Monuments
Speculation that Trump may look to draw back on Obama’s proclamation became clear on June 10, when Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke proposed “significantly scaling back the borders” of Bears Ears in an official report. Zinke’s views on the matter were seen as unprecedented by many. He said in a statement that his reasoning was because the designation of a national monument was “not the best use of the land.”
During his speech in Utah, Trump cited Zinke’s guidance as a factor in issuing the proclamations.
5. Tribe Leaders Have Fought for the Preservation of Bears Ears
With the designation of Bears Ears being at stake, many have joined forces to advocate for the preservation of it. The website BearsEarsCoalition.org was launched by leaders of the five tribes to “help our tribes fight back.”
Tribal leaders were also interviewed on news outlets such as MSNBC to advocate against Trump’s executive order. Full-page advertisements were taken out in newspapers, saying, “Trump disrespects our sacred lands.”
“Bears Ears National Monument was a victory achieved after 80 years of working to protect this sacred landscape,” an ad by the group said. “In less than 1 year, President Trump is trying to destroy our heritage.”
Demonstrators have taken to the streets in protest of Trump’s views on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalate.