In a historic act, President Donald J. Trump appeared at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City today to sign a proclamation reducing the land size of the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Declaring that past administrations had abused the Antiquities Act by using it to “lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water,” President Trump reduced the Bears Ears National Monument by 1,150,860 acres and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 861,974 acres.
Rebecca Benally, San Juan County Commissioner, celebrated the reduction, calling the original monument designations a “land grab.” She said that the designations were made by people who had never been to San Juan County, but sought to take control of the land from the local residents who gathered vegetation from the land for their medicines, cut wood on the land to heat their homes, hunted there for food, and visited the land to give sacred offerings. She expressed distrust of federal control, citing the long history of broken promises to Native Americans by the federal government.
In supporting the reduction, Utah House Speaker Gregory H. Hughes declared that the “little guy had a voice today,” and gave the Trump administration credit for having the courage to stand for this voice. Governor Gary Herbert agreed, saying “facts matter, not slogans.” Likewise, Senator Orrin Hatch praised the President for “not ignoring hard-working people” of San Juan County. Finally, Ryan Zinke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, said that the “Antiquities Act was never intended to prevent, but to protect.” He also declared that “public land is for the public to use, not special interests.”
The remaining acreage of the Monuments protects notable natural and man-made wonders. The two units of the Bears Ears National Monuments protect the Lime Ridge Clovis Site, the Doll House Ruin, the Moon House Ruin, and Indian Creek Rock Art, among other sites. The three units of the Grand Staircase-Escalante protect the Grand Staircase, Escalante Natural Bridge, Old Paria Townsite, and the Kaiparowits Plateau, among others.
Protesters appeared at the capitol today, vocalizing displeasure at the reduction. Security around the capitol was heavy, and protesters were not allowed inside the capitol.