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In Utah, Trump Announces Dramatic Decreases In Size To State's National Monuments


When President Obama was in office, he designated vast areas around the country as national monuments. It's a label that restricts land use, like mining, oil and gas development, cattle grazing. Today, President Trump was in Salt Lake City to sign proclamations to dramatically reverse those protections for two of Utah's national monuments called Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. NPR correspondent Kirk Siegler was there, and he is with us now. Hey, Kirk.


MCEVERS: OK, so reversing yet another Obama-era policy, what is President Trump's motivation here?

SIEGLER: Well, that's certainly one way to look at it. This is another rollback of something President Obama did - in particular, a proclamation creating Bears Ears National Monument. But this is also a way for the president to get a win with his base. These monument designations have never been popular in a lot of the rural West, where they're seen as federal overreach.

And you know, President Trump is dramatically reducing the size while not actually abolishing them totally as some had wanted. Kelly, Bears Ears is going to be reduced by - to just 13 percent of what it was originally. And originally it was 1.3 million acres of protected land considered sacred to tribes. And then you've got Grand Staircase that was designated by President Clinton. That's going to be halved just about. So let's listen to a little of what President Trump said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.

SIEGLER: And you know, Kelly, I think this very well is historic or will be. It's likely going to mark the single largest reversal of public lands protections in United States history.

MCEVERS: And you mentioned, you know, that this is something that could please his base. I mean, who is happy about this decision? How are people talking about it?

SIEGLER: Well, here at the Utah State Capitol where I am, it was a ceremony with the who's who of conservative Utah politicians, a lot of rural county commissioners. You know, I talked to one who told me that, you know, he just felt like people in San Juan County, Utah, and the far-remote corner - southeast corner of the state were already taking care of this public land. And they thought that more restrictions would shut down the opportunities for future grazing, potential industrial development.

But you know, Kelly, the rural West has also changed quite a bit, and there's a good deal of opposition to the president's decision here in Utah today. Even a conservative straight - state, the outdoor recreation industry is booming, and there's a growing segment of the public that likes to recreate in wild places and wants to see them protected.

MCEVERS: We're going to hear from a tribal representative next. But we just want to mention that this is unwelcome news for Utah's Native American tribes as well as for conservationists, yeah?

SIEGLER: That's right. In fact where I'm standing out here in the fresh snow, there was a large protest earlier as the president was speaking inside.

MCEVERS: And you know, a lot of this land did not have the national monument designation until last year. Is there any reason to believe there'll be, you know, a rush to mine or drill or expand grazing in these places?

SIEGLER: That's hard to answer. I mean, for right now, it's going to go back to what it was - just I guess ordinary federal public land. There could be some opportunities for future grazing and coal mining in particular in the Grand Staircase area. But I think most immediately, the administration is going to get sued. Tribes are already talking about lawsuits. Bears Ears in particular was designated originally to protect against all the looting of artifacts in that area, and tribes are worried about these protections going away.

MCEVERS: And very quickly, I mean, is this a precedent? Could it happen in other places around the country?

SIEGLER: Well, I think one of the biggest implications, Kelly, is that if these actually hold up in court, it's going to set a precedent for a future president to come in and potentially remove other national monument protections on public land unilaterally. So we're talking about a pretty big rollback here.

MCEVERS: NPR's Kirk Siegler in Utah, thanks.

SIEGLER: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.