U.S. President Donald Trump announced big cuts to Utah’s sprawling wilderness national monuments on Monday, angering tribes and environmental groups that want to keep the areas off limits to development.
Unlike national parks that can only be created by an act of Congress, national monuments can be designated unilaterally by presidents under the century-old Antiquities Act, a law meant to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects.
The comment period for the Trump administration’s national monument review has officially ended, and the administration if facing stiff public backlash over its attempt to downsize national monuments across the West.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April directing the Department of the Interior to review two decades’ worth of national monument designations in an effort to decide whether to rescind, modify, or maintain their designations. The review encompasses 21 monuments, mostly located in the Western United States, from New Mexico to Washington.
The review’s public comment period, which lasted for 60 days, elicited more than 2.5 million responses. According to a Center for Western Priorities analysis of the 654,197 comments that had been processed by Interior Department staff as of Monday morning, 98 percent were supportive of maintaining or expanding current national monument boundaries, while just 1 percent supported the idea of shrinking monuments.
Several recently-designated monuments have been the target of Republican lawmakers, primarily the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama designated in December of 2016. The designation, which was granted after a proposal from five indigenous tribes, meant that oil and gas companies would not be allowed to drill or mine for minerals in some 1.35-million acres of the state. On June 13, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released a recommendation calling for Bears Ears to be downsized, which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a fierce opponent of the national monument, called “ an unquestionable victory for Utah.”