Trump shrinks Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante in largest cutback of protected land in American history

By Emma Curtis , AccuWeather staff writer
December 05, 2017, 9:06:32 AM EST

President Trump reduced the occupied area of two Utah national monuments by more than 2 million acres on Monday.

The shrinking of Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Esclante by half marks the largest cutback of protected land in American history.

Grand Staircase-Escalante was marked a national monument by President Clinton in 1996 and Bears Ears was designated by President Obama just last year. Trump’s move comes with a push for fewer restrictions and more development on protected land throughout the country.

bears ears trump

President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments at the Utah State Capitol Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The move to shrink the monuments may be the beginning of a long battle against the precedents set by the 1906 Antiquities Act.

The act states that a monument must be the “smallest area compatible” with protecting any historical or scientific significance that prompted protection of the land. Many have argued that the protection of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante were much bigger than necessary. Bears Ears was designated more than 1.3 million acres.

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Trump argued that his decision to decrease the land size goes hand in hand with the Antiquity Act’s requirement that the region remains the “smallest area compatible.” He stated that areas of the original monument “are not unique” or are "not of significant scientific or historic interest.”

Under Trump’s proclamation, Bears Ears will shrink to just over 200,000 acres while keeping the celebrated and recognized features of the region like Bears Ears, Doll House Ruins, Mule Canyon and Comb Ridge protected.

Utah Senator and President pro tempore of the United States Senate Orrin Hatch and Utah Senator Mike Lee each released a statement on Twitter in favor of the administration’s decision to reduce the size of the monuments.

However, the decision was also met with waves of criticism. Navajo Nation, house democrats and sustainable clothing company, Patagonia, have each released a statement condemning the President’s choice to reduce the protected land so drastically.

Many opponents of the decision feel that Trump is using overarching powers for economic gain without considering the impacts of conservation.

Some of those in favor argue that the most important areas will still remained protected and the reduction of size creates endless opportunities for economic improvement.

Various organizations seek to sue President Trump over his decision. One lawsuit, comprised of The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club argues that Trump's decision to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante was "unlawful" and "exceeds his authority under the US Constitution and the Antiquities Act."

A coalition of five American Indian tribes was the first to file a lawsuit against the proclamation.

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