Utah, Regional  –   President Donald Trump will be in Utah today to announce changes in the size of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Documents obtained by the Washington Post suggest Bears Ears could be reduced by 85 percent, and Grand Staircase could be cut by nearly half. According to Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities, Trump’s actions would be the single largest elimination of protections for public lands and wildlife in U.S. history.

“And that’s not hyperbole,” Weiss said. “No one has ever tried to remove land protections from this much public land at once. Ever.”

In April, Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review designations of 100,000 acres or more made since the Clinton administration, and Weiss said the public response was nearly unanimous – 99 percent told Zinke to leave monuments intact.

Proponents of the move claim former presidents overstepped their authority granted under the 1906 Antiquities Act by limiting oil, gas and coal development on large parcels of public land.

Weiss said courts have affirmed presidential authority in previously challenged large-scale designations, including 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon. He called Trump’s action a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry, and argued the move could end up hurting rural economies – including small businesses that have sprung up around Grand Staircase-Escalante in Garfield and Kane counties.

“It’s a recreation economy that is now at stake,” he said. “And if you take away those protections, you are pulling the rug out from underneath all of these small business owners.”

Five Native American tribes that worked to win the monument designations are expected to file a lawsuit to block Trump’s order as soon as it’s signed. Weiss noted that Bears Ears in particular, which has some 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites, has faced ongoing threats from looters and vandals.


Eric Galatas, Public News Service