A rare step was taken by President Donald Trump on Monday after he scaled back two sprawling national monuments in Utah, declaring that "public lands will once again be for public use."
The move, which marks the first time in a half-century that a president has done these types of land protections, was cheered by Republican leaders who lobbied him to undo protections they considered overly broad.
However, the decision has been opposed by tribal and environmental groups and they are expected to go to court in a bid to stop Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
The plan was made official during a speech at the State Capitol. Trump signed proclamations to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The two monuments encompass millions of acres of land.
According to state officials, the protections were overly broad and closed off the area to energy development.
Tribal and environmental groups claim that the designations are needed to protect important archaeological and cultural resources, especially the more than 1.3 million-acre (2,030-square-mile) Bears Ears. In response, Trump said that the people of Utah know best how to care for their land.
"Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington," Trump said. "And guess what? They're wrong."
A group of about 3,000 demonstrators lined up near the State Capitol to protest Trump's announcement. Some held signs that said, "Keep your tiny hands off our public lands," and they chanted, "Lock him up!"
There was also a small group that gathered in support, including some who said they favor potential drilling or mining there that could create jobs.
"Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away," Trump said. "I've come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens."
President Barack Obama created the Bears Ears, it will now be reduced by about 85 percent, to 201,876 acres (315 square miles). The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, will be reduced from nearly 1.9 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles) to 1,003,863 acres (1,569 square miles).
The two are among a group of 27 monuments that Trump ordered Zinke to review this year. Zinke accompanied Trump aboard Air Force One, as did Utah's Republican U.S. senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. Hatch and other Utah Republican leaders pushed Trump to launch the review.
The leaders argued that the monuments designated by the former Democratic presidents locked up too much federal land. There’s no president who has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have reduced or redrawn the boundaries on 18 occasions.
For too long the Tree Huggers have used this type of Land Grab to do as they wanted with immunity. There MUST be some balance. Tribal Lands I understand. BLM confiscations for Federally deems Alternative uses … which put $$$ in other people pockets should be investigated… eg. the recent Nevada BLM land grab attempt so a son of a Famous Politician could set up a Solar Farm using Federal underwritten taxpayer $$$$ to put $$ in the families pocket and which lead to funneling donations to a Liberal foundation that then funneled the $$$ back to the DNC and activist groups.