US President Donald Trump announced the largest rollback of national monuments in US history on Monday, slashing protected areas at two prominent wilderness sites in the state of Utah.
The move comes eight months after he ordered a review of 27 monuments designated by previous presidents. The objective of the review was to determine if protected areas could be rescinded or downsized in order to give more control to state and local officials.
"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 while announcing the decision in the State Capitol, alongside Utah's Republican Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah congressional delegation.
But thousands of protesters gathered near the Capitol despite the snowy weather. Some held up signs like "Keep your tiny hands off our public lands" and the crowd chanted "Lock him up."
Environmentalists and Native Americans immediately vowed to challenge the president's decision in court. The National Parks Conservation Association, which describes itself as a nonpartisan advocate for the parks, is among the groups opposing the move.
National monuments can be designated unilaterally by presidents under the century-old Antiquities Act. The law is intended to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects.
Trump said former presidents abused the Antiquities Act by designating unnecessarily large chunks of territory off limits to drilling, mining, grazing, road traffic and other activities that interfere with his plan to increase US energy production.
Going to court
After his speech, Trump signed two proclamations. One dramatically shrinks the 1.3 million acre (0.5 million hectare) Bears Ears National Monument, created by then-President Barack Obama in 2016. It leaves just 228,784 acres — split into two separate areas — protected.
The other proclamation slashes the state's 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 — nearly in half, breaking it up it into three pieces.
The leaders of the five tribes that pushed for the Bears Ears monument, and who now manage it, vowed to take the Trump administration to court. They include the Navajo, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain and Ute Indians who consider the protected area sacred.
"We will be fighting back immediately. All five tribes will be standing together united to defend Bears Ears," said Natalie Landreth, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which believes the cut would violate the Antiquities Act.
Conservation groups and outdoor clothing company Patagonia also plan to file a court challenge, arguing that Washington ignored public support for the monuments.
Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation, said Trump's actions ignored the treaty rights of sovereign Native American nations.
"It's a sad day in Indian country," said Nez.
bik/se (Reuters, AP)