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Trump move to downsize Utah national monuments could reshape land conservation

President Trump took aim at two different national monuments in Utah, announcing a plan to downsize them in order to rectify what he says were instances of overreach by prior administrations. With the full support of the state's all-Republican congressional delegation, Trump proposed shrinking Bears Ears by 85 percent and reducing Grand Staircase-Escalante by almost half. William Brangham reports.

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  • Miles O’Brien:

    President Trump traveled to Utah today, where he dramatically cut back the size of two national monuments in that state.

    It fulfills a pledge made months ago, and continues the Trump administration's rollback of key parts of President Obama's legacy.

    William Brangham has the story.

  • William Brangham:

    In Salt Lake City today, President Trump announced his plan to downsize two national monuments to rectify what he says was overreach by prior administrations.

  • President Donald Trump:

    As many of you know, past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act.

  • William Brangham:

    The announcement comes after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke completed a months-long review of 27 different national monuments across the country.

    Today, the president took aim at two different spots in Utah. The first is Bears Ears, which was declared a national monument a year ago by then President Obama. Today, Trump proposed shrinking the 1.3 million-acre monument by 85 percent, turning it into two smaller separate monuments.

    The second is Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by President Clinton in 1996. Its 1.8 million acres will be reduced by almost half, and split into three smaller pockets of land.

    Both Obama and Clinton declared these monuments using the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the president broad legal authority to protect historic landmarks, including cultural and natural resources that sit on public lands.

    But, today, President Trump, who had the full support of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation, again argued that these prior designations amounted to a federal land grab. He argued these lands are better managed locally, not from Washington, D.C.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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.

  • William Brangham:

    But the president's move has also sparked protests from conservation groups and Native American tribes, who call the president's announcement a monumental mistake.

    The Bears Ears region is considered sacred to the five Native American tribes who trace their ancestry to the site. It's filled with rock art, and it's home to over 100,000 Native archaeological and cultural sites.

    Native groups worry these sites will become damaged and inaccessible if they lose this federal protection. Several of those groups rallied over the weekend and today in Utah in advance of the president's arrival.

    Ethel Branch is the lead lawyer for the Navajo Nation.

  • Ethel Branch:

    To continue who we are as Navajo people, we have to have access to places like Bears Ears, to pristine repositories of culturally significant resources.

  • William Brangham:

    Today's announcement will likely continue to be fought in the courts. It's unclear whether a president can use the same Antiquities Act to undo a predecessor's designation.

    Experts on both sides say a legal decision on this matter could alter the future of American lands conservation.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm William Brangham.

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