Trump announces major changes for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase monuments

Two national monuments in Utah will be drastically reduced in size.

The Bears Ears National Monument will be reduced by more than 80 percent, to 230,000 acres from the current 1.3 million acres. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will also be reduced to about 1 million acres from 1.9 million acres.

"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 in his announcement at the Utah State Capitol on Monday.

The land will still be managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, however, even though it is no longer part of a national monument, according to an official from the Interior Department. Bears Ears has also been managed by a local commission of representatives from the five tribes in the area who provide recommendations to the agencies managing the land.

Trump said Monday the announcement would give locals a greater say in how the land was managed, but tribes that consider the monument sacred and live in reservations adjoining the current borders say they have not been consulted equally in making the decision to change the borders. Zinke said they worked with the Utah Governor's Office and state officials to make sure antiquities were still included in the borders of the monument.

“The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. “The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.”

Bears Ears was declared a national monument by President Barack Obama in 2016 and is unique in that five Native American tribes from the area came together the ask the administration to protect the land. Grand Staircase-Escalante was declared a national monument by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

The move is controversial and is expected to face immediate legal challenges from Native American tribes who consider the land sacred as well as conservation groups who want the land to retain its monument status. They say that the Antiquities Act grants the president the authority to create national monuments but not the power to eliminate them.

Monday's announcement is not the first time a president has looked into making a national monument smaller.

The Congressional Research Service wrote a report on this issue in 2016 that found that while the Antiquities Act doesn't specifically grant the president the power to shrink or eliminate monuments it does say that monument size "shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected," which could be used to justify making the monument smaller.

Monday's announcement only addressed the two monuments in Utah, but a version of Zinke's recommendations reported by the Washington Post included recommendations to modify eight additional monuments and create four new ones. It's unclear when the president will announce his decision on those monuments.