Washington • President Donald Trump will fly into Utah on Monday to announce that he’ll shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, sources familiar with the trip confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Trump will travel to Salt Lake City, where he’ll explain why he’s changing the boundaries of the two monuments, the sources said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the trip.
The president is not expected to visit either monument or stay in Utah overnight. Though Sen. Orrin Hatch did arrange a meeting between the president and the leaders of the LDS Church.
The White House said last month the president would travel to Utah to make an announcement on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations to change the monuments. Trump had ordered a review of all national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act going back to 1996, a time period that included President Bill Clinton’s naming of the Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Hatch and other Utah officials have pressed Trump to either eliminate or shrink the monuments, which cover large swaths of federal lands in the southern part of the state. Environmentalists and tribes have said they will seek legal action to stop any changes, which they don’t believe the president can do under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
“The tribes view this as an affront to themselves and their own self-determination,” said Natalie Landreth, senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. “All of us, all five tribes, will be suing jointly the day he makes an announcement.”
Five tribes — the Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and the Ute Indian Tribe — make up the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition that advocated for the monument. Landreth said they have not determined which federal court the group would file the lawsuit in but that it would be about violating the Constitution’s separation of powers.
San Juan County Commission Chairman Bruce Adams, who fought the Bears Ears monument designation within the county, said residents there were hoping for a total rescission of the monument but he says they’ll be pleased if the change is a “major reduction.”
But while excited for Trump’s action, Adams says Congress still needs to change the Antiquities Act to exempt San Juan County or Utah or somewhat limit the president’s unilateral power to name monuments.
“This is half of the ballgame,” Adams said. “What would really codify the whole process and the whole thing would be if Congress would actually address the Antiquities Act. … They need to do something.”
Hatch said in a brief statement that he welcomes Trump’s visit.
I’m thrilled the president has accepted my invitation to come to Utah to discuss critical issues that matter to my constituents,” the senator said.
Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock said the president will meet with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tour Welfare Square.
Trump had called Hatch in October to tell him he would follow through on Zinke’s recommendations.
“I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin,” the president said, according to Hatch’s office.
Trump’s planned visit sparked an immediate rebuke by conservationists, who, along with tribal leaders, have begged for protection of the Bears Ears area for decades.
“This illegal action will cement Trump’s legacy as one of the worst presidents in modern history,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump has no clue how much people love these sacred and irreplaceable landscapes, but he’s about to find out. He’s shown his blatant disregard for public lands, Native Americans and the law. We look forward to seeing him in court.”
The Center for Western Priorities said Trump’s move would be the largest rollback of protections for lands and wildlife in U.S. history.
“The president is capping his celebration of Native American Heritage Month by opening the door to new drilling and mining on land considered sacred by tribal nations,” said the group’s executive director, Jennifer Rokala. “After his appalling remarks at the White House on Monday, President Trump’s assault on tribal interests continues at a staggering pace.”
During a Monday event honoring Navajo Code Talkers for their service in World War II, Trump poked fun at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., calling her “Pocahontas.”
Zinke previously told The Tribune that Bears Ears, which is now 1.35 million acres, will still be larger than Zion and Bryce national parks combined, putting it somewhere north of 180,000 acres after the change. A Hatch staffer told a state legislative committee that Grand Staircase, which is about 1.9 million acres, could be trimmed by half.
It was unclear immediately if protests or rallies were planned for Monday but more than 2,000 people have said on Facebook they’d attend a rally Saturday at the Utah Capitol to protest “against Trump’s monumental mistake.” The event is being organized by Utah Dine Bikeyah and is supported by many environmental groups including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.