Trump taking unprecedented action to revoke national monument designations in West

Tuesday, 05 December 2017, 01:39:39 AM. President Donald Trump is announcing plans to scale back two sprawling national monuments in Utah, responding to what he has condemned as a 'massive federal land grab' by the government.

President Trump is expected to make a public lands declaration Monday unlike any ever made by a U.S. chief executive. The president will formally revoke two big national monuments in southern Utah and replace them with five much smaller monuments.

The president may also issue changes in the boundaries of two more national monuments in Nevada and Oregon, and two big marine monuments in the Pacific.

President Trump Alex Wong / Getty Images President Trump gestures as he speaks to members of the media prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 4, 2017, in Washington. President Trump gestures as he speaks to members of the media prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 4, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

On the trip to Utah for the announcement, Trump was buoyant about the day’s events. “We're going to Utah. We're going to be doing something that the state of Utah and others have wanted to be done for many, many years,” he said. “It will be one of the great, really, events in this country in a long time. So important for states' rights and so important for the people of Utah.”

The president’s actions, to be announced at the Utah Capitol, are a dramatic departure from conventional interpretations of the 1906 Antiquities Act, on which the monument designations are based. The act, advocated by President Theodore Roosevelt, was designed to provide safeguards to exceptional historic, cultural, and natural landscapes across the country, most of them located in the West’s public domain.

The Antiquities Act provides broad authority to presidents to act alone in establishing national monuments. Presidents have declared more than 150 national monuments, many of which became national parks. Four of Utah’s five national parks started as national monuments.

Though previous presidents have adjusted national monuments more than 40 times, all but 14 of those changes were made to expand monument boundaries. No prior president has revoked a national monument designation. None has come close to reducing boundaries by the nearly 2 million acres that Trump is removing from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircse-Escalante national monuments.

Native Americans rewrote the playbook for preserving public land — and Trump is trying to erase it Keith Schneider President Obama's signature on the proclamation to establish Bears Ears National Monument stirred Congress and President Trump to lay siege to the Antiquities Act and 26 other monuments, most of them created by Democratic presidents. President Obama's signature on the proclamation to establish Bears Ears National Monument stirred Congress and President Trump to lay siege to the Antiquities Act and 26 other monuments, most of them created by Democratic presidents. (Keith Schneider)

Trump’s declaration sets the stage for a court battle over presidential authority to revoke a national monument. Legal scholars assert that neither the Antiquities Act nor the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act allow such striking changes to national monuments by a president. That authority, they assert, rests solely with Congress.

The president acted at the urging of Utah’s Republican Congressional delegation, which resisted the decisions by Presidents Clinton and Obama to establish the two monuments. Utah’s lawmakers insist that the two Democrats overreached in establishing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by not adequately considering the views of state residents. The Obama administration disputed that characterization, arguing that it held many public meetings and invited public comment.

Public opinion surveys have consistently found that Utah residents are about evenly divided on whether to shrink or maintain the existing boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore Doug Mills / AP In this Sept. 18, 1996, file photo, Vice President Al Gore applauds after President Bill Clinton signs a bill designating about 1.7 million acres of land in southern Utah's red-rock cliff as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In this Sept. 18, 1996, file photo, Vice President Al Gore applauds after President Bill Clinton signs a bill designating about 1.7 million acres of land in southern Utah's red-rock cliff as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (Doug Mills / AP)

In April, Trump signed an executive order that directed the Interior Department to review 27 monuments established since 1996. The department received nearly 3 million comments. Most expressed support for keeping national monument boundaries and management practices intact.

Follow Keith Schneider, Western environment and public lands correspondent, on Twitter.

keith.schneider@latimes.com

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