Why you should care

In initiating the biggest rollback of federally protected land in U.S. history, President Donald Trump has sparked a new land war out West.

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WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? A potentially landmark decision on U.S. federal lands. President Donald Trump signed orders on Monday to dramatically cut two federally protected areas in Utah by more than 2 million acres in an effort to “reverse federal overreach.” The two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, were created under previous Democratic administrations using the Antiquities Act to guard against drilling and mining. Now those protected areas will be cut by more than half.

Why does it matter? The move represents the biggest rollback of federally protected land in U.S. history and signals the beginning of additional reductions. The president has promised “wonder and wealth” as a result of the decision and other recent edicts that remove habitat protections and ease drilling regulations for mineral and oil and gas companies on federal lands. The move has been met by passionate opposition from Democrats and conservation groups, and several environmental groups and five Native American tribes have already filed lawsuits in response.

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On the steps of Utah’s State Capital building, thousands protest President Trump’s plan to shrink protected areas across the country.

Source Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

The president giveth … The Antiquities Act was signed into law in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt and was part of a broader conservation movement and National Park System that documentarian Ken Burns once dubbed “America’s Best Idea.” The act gives presidents broad authority to declare land off-limits to further development if they deem the land “objects of historic or scientific interest.” So far, past administrations have used the order to create 170 monuments.

and he taketh away … President Trump may have donated his salary of $78,333 for his first 10 weeks in office to the National Park Service, but his proposed budget cuts the National Park Service by almost 13 percent, or around $400 million. Meanwhile, interior secretary Ryan Zinke, whose hero is Teddy Roosevelt, has urged further reductions to other national monuments including Nevada’s Gold Butte and Cascade-Siskiyou lands.

Uncharted (legal) terrain. What comes next? An extensive legal battle that could alter the course of American land conservation. The Antiquities Act does not expressly give the president the power to rescind or shrink national monuments, and such a move has never been tested in court. The coming legal battles challenging the reductions will therefore create a powerful precedent, either squashing future attempts to reduce national monuments or clearing the path for future administrations.

Retailer revolt. Prominent outdoor outfitters like Patagonia and REI are speaking out against the shrinking of protected lands. “The president stole your land,” Patagonia said on its website. “You mean Patagonia made in China?” Zinke responded to the attack, arguing that “Not one square inch was stolen. The federal estate remains intact.” The interior secretary has repeatedly maintained that public land is not for “special interests,” despite reports that the newly unprotected land will be open to development from energy companies.

Local voices. The rollback was enacted after an extensive effort by the administration to hear from local voices. So what do the locals think about the president’s move? Recent polls by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah found only 27 percent of Utahns thought the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument should be reduced, while 98 percent of local Navajos support preserving the full area. Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez called the change, which came a week after Trump referred to another politician as “Pocahontas” during an event honoring Navajo veterans, “just another slap in the face.”

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Four ancient hand prints on a sandstone wall at the House on Fire ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument outside Blanding, Utah.

Source George Frey/Getty

WHAT TO READ

National Park Lovers Should Applaud Trump’s Monument Decision, by former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Fox News

Monument designations … have been routinely abused in an effort to lock down resource-rich areas that do not meet objective criteria for preservation. By unlocking these otherwise unremarkable areas, President Trump enables high-paying resource extraction jobs to return to rural communities …

Address of the President at the Grand Canyon on May 6, 1903, by Theodore Roosevelt on The National Park Service website

Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it; not a bit. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Trump’s National Monuments Announcement in Utah

Some people think the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. … They’re wrong.”

Watch on YouTube:

The Beauty of Bears Ears National Monument

Never heard of Bears Ears? You may be missing one of the western U.S.’ most scenic places … [a] desert landscape of raw beauty and immeasurable cultural value.”

Watch at National Geographic:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER

Some environmental lawyers claim that America’s Antiquities Act system is, well, antiquated. Elsewhere in the world, countries like Ecuador and New Zealand have given land and other natural features legal rights similar to those of persons or corporations. In the United States, however, the so-called “rights of nature” movement is still at a grassroots level.

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