The crowd inside the Utah State Capitol chanted “four more years” as President Donald Trump signed two presidential proclamations to shrink the sizes of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments.
President Trump’s proclamation, signed during his Utah visit on Dec. 4, reduces the land for Bears Ears National Monument to 201,876 acres (315 square miles) and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument from nearly 1.9 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles) to 1,003,863 acres (1,569 square miles).
Utah legislators at the event thanked Trump for giving Utah residents a voice, but such a decision has brought controversy to the state and is expected to bring a legal battle.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended a review of 27 national monuments for the president to review earlier this year, according to the Associated Press.
Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the protections of the several large national monuments. Trump is able to upend the protections under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president broad authority to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict their use, according to the Associated Press.
Trump said his visit to Utah is a step forward in addressing the long-standing issue that the Antiquities Act has been “abused” to “lock up” lands and water to be under strict government control.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”
Trump said, at the time, he had spoken to state and local leaders “who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab. And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. This should never have happened.”
Bears Ears was created on Dec. 28, 2016, by President Barack Obama. This designated 1.35 million acres of land in the San Juan County for the monument. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was created on Sep. 18, 1996, by President Bill Clinton.
Trump’s move marks the first time in a half-century that a president has undone these types of land protections. It could be the first of many changes to come. Trump has yet to announce decisions on other protected lands.
Monday’s action is an effort to make public lands be for public use, Trump said.
Trump said he called Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, and all his Utah friends to ask what they thought on this topic. Trump said he asked them if this action to shrink the sizes of these national monuments would be good for the state. He also asked if it would be a controversial topic at all. They all told him no, according to Trump’s speech.
BYU sophomore Halli Boman said she went to the Utah Capitol building on Saturday to protest the shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments.
“We took up the entire area of the south stairs at the Capitol building,” Boman said. “The atmosphere seemed to be pretty positive and loving. Everyone who attended cared deeply about preserving the monuments for various reasons: recreation, environmentalism, cultural/spiritual beliefs, etc.”
Boman said she thinks Trump’s decision to shrink the sizes of these Utah national monuments will negatively affect Utah. She said these monuments honor Native Americans and are in place to respect the ancestral and spiritual nature of their lands. Boman said these monuments help protect that designated land.
Conversely, San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally said the monument designation of the area was a “land grab” to control “the land, people and financial gains.”
Utah’s monument reduction is expected to trigger a legal battle between the White House administration and various Native American and environmental groups, according to Associated Press.
“Environmental and Native American tribes plan to sue to stop the reductions at the Utah monuments, which will likely trigger a lengthy court battle. They have vowed to challenge any other downsizing, too,” the Press reported.
Boman said making the Utah land available for economic gain will most likely be a pattern for other monuments around the country.
“Once Trump makes the decision shrink the monuments and allow Utah legislature to sell the land — most likely to coal mining or oil drilling corporations — other states may decide that temporary, quick income is more important than preserving important and beautiful American land,” Boman said.
Editor’s note: The Associated Press also contributed to this story.