Opponents say Trump's plan to shrink national monuments is illegal

Valley of the Gods, part of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument.
Valley of the Gods, part of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
President Trump is expected to travel to Utah on Monday to announce that he is shrinking significant portions of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, but opponents say he isn't allowed to do so.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante were designated as national monuments by presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, respectively, which presidents are allowed to do under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Opponents of Trump's plan argue that the Antiquities Act does not give him the power to reduce the size of protected lands.

"If the documents are accurate, President Trump will be announcing the largest repeal of protections for U.S. public lands ever. More than 85% of Bears Ears National Monument would be eliminated and almost half of Grand Staircase-Escalante. In total, over two million acres of protected land would be lost. That's more than six times the size of the Grand Tetons National Park," said Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) on a press call on Friday, hosted by opponents of the forthcoming move.

The president's decision, said Udall, would lift protections of Native American sites and put sensitive land and cultural sites at risk for development of oil and gas.

"President Trump doesn't have the legal authority to diminish the monuments. He is using never-tested and dubious legal authority to try to reverse designation, and I will fight him every step of the way," said Udall.

Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation, said that the Navajo Nation plans to challenge the action in court.

"This unprecedented decision, and I don't say that lightly, is not like anything we have ever before seen because this is a full-scale revoke and replace. It creates two different monuments with two different names, two different boundaries and different maps. This is not, no matter what they want to call it, a boundary modification," said Natalie Landreth, attorney at the Native American Rights Fund.

She said that only Congress has the authority over federal lands, but that a small part of that power has been delegated to the president in order to create national monuments, not to change, alter or revoke and replace them as is being proposed with the Utah monuments.

Others on the call said that their larger concern is that the Trump administration is turning its back on its responsibility to protect the country's public lands for future generations in favor of corporate interests, which could put national parks in jeopardy.

"This is entirely about access to fossil fuels and to uranium. This is about natural resource extraction," said Collin O'Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation. "What this administration is doing should worry every single family that values our national parks and our monuments. It's really a question of whose side are you on, and is it supporting local communities and economic development or is it supporting big industry at the expense of our heritage and our future? The administration is ignoring the communities that want these lands to be protected for future generations."

Rose Marcario, president and CEO of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, said that Patagonia plans to file a lawsuit challenging the action.
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