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Was It 'Illegal' For Trump To Shrink Utah's Monuments? The Battle Begins
08 December 2017, 12:53 | Darnell Patrick
Heat maps of animal habitats and recreational spots in Grand Staircase-Escalante left and Bears Ears National Monuments
Republican Rep. John Curtis said at a press conference Tuesday that his measure on Bears Ears National Monument would allow Native Americans and local residents manage the land. The court cases are likely to drag on for years, maybe even into a new presidency.
The question has never been settled in court, but conservation and paleontology groups and Native American tribes launching lawsuits are preparing to argue that Trump doesn't have that authority and his move jeopardizes a wealth of Native American artifacts, dinosaur fossils and rugged spaces. A coalition of Native American tribes also said it would sue the Trump Administration over the reduction of the Bears EarsMonument.
As expected, environmental and Native American groups were outraged. "There is nothing in the Antiquities Act that authorizes the president to modify a national monument once its designated", explained Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.
Trump said his decision was made to "reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens". Some held signs that said, "Keep your tiny hands off our public lands", and they chanted, "Lock him up!"
Bears Ears, created almost a year ago, will be reduced to 315 square miles.
Trump said in Salt Lake City that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be reduced by half, from almost 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometers) to 1,569 square miles (4,064 square kilometers). About 1.7 million acres of land was declared protected under Proclamation 6920 by former President Bill Clinton on September 18, 1996, (Congress added more later) and Trump's Monday order reduces that to just over 1 million acres.
According to Earthjustice, the Antiquities Act grants presidents the authority to designate public land as federally protected areas under national monuments to safeguard significant features of natural, cultural, historic or scientific interest.
Democrats and environmentalists accuse Trump and Zinke of engaging in a secretive process aimed at helping industry groups that have donated to Republican political campaigns.
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Zinke accompanied President Trump aboard Air Force One, as did Utah's Republican U.S. senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. Hatch and other state Republican leaders pushed Trump to launch the review, saying the monuments designated by the former Democratic presidents locked up too much federal land. He said the decision would "give back your voice". The company said it has "always viewed public lands as our special interest", company spokeswoman Corley Kenna said.
"There's enough resources for them now, but you start reducing that by any bit and these species are inevitably going to suffer", says Joshua Lenart, who is the chair of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Utah.
Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the protections, which Trump is able to upend under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Under the law, presidents are supposed to reserve "the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected", but critics say some designations flout that small-scale approach.
Supporters of Trump's move welcomed the fight, saying it will answer longstanding questions about presidential power involving the protection of land.
The two monuments were created by Democrats Barack Obama and Bill Clinton under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historically, geographically or culturally important.
Zinke declined to specify how many acres he wants to remove from monument status, stressing that the administration is working with Nevada's governor and congressional delegation to find a solution.
Zinke also has recommended allowing logging at a newly designated monument in ME and urges more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico.
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