Trump monuments review courts praise, pushback

The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah protects one of most significant cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and important areas of spiritual significance. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial kivas, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record, all surrounded by a dramatic backdrop of deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and forested highlands and the monument’s namesake twin buttes. These lands are sacred to many Native American tribes today, who use the lands for ceremonies, collecting medicinal and edible plants, and gathering materials for crafting baskets and footwear. Their recommendations will ensure management decisions reflect tribal expertise and traditional and historical knowledge. (Bureau of Land Management/Bob Wick)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Throughout the United States and its territories are millions of acres of breathtaking views – from desert canyons and majestic mountains to grassy plains and blue-watered coasts. Some, even tested by battle in some of this country’s historic battles.

They are national monuments, established by various American presidents for over a century under the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by former President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.

Former President Barack Obama holds the record for naming national monuments at more than 30 and more than 500 million acres of land. One of his final designations, Bears Ears National Monument of San Juan County, Utah, triggered a rift in Utah and Washington.

"We've had too much of this federal Washingtonian approach to telling us what we can and cannot do with our lands. I want Utahns to have some say in the matter," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Sinclair Broadcast Group.

So, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 26 to review national monuments established since 1996 and over 100,000 acres large. So far, two dozen monuments are expected to be reviewed - mostly those designated by recent Democratic presidents: Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

That review is now being carried out by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and one of the monuments on his shortlist is Bears Ears.

"There’s some controversial monuments. I’m going to talk to the governors, congressional delegations on both sides of the aisle," Zinke told Sinclair in a White House interview last week.

Zinke already met with the Utah delegation in Washington on Bears Ears as well as the Clinton-designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also in Utah.

Democrats, some of whom held a press conference on Tuesday, worry that this review might be the first step in allowing the Trump administration to strip away the authority of the Antiquities Act.

"We feel, it’s the legal opinion of many, that Trump does not have the singular legal authority or power to undo these monuments that have been designated by other presidents,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Activist groups are also gearing up for a legal challenge against the Trump administration, should the review lead to a change in designations.

The Trump administration contends that it would not strip any designations and Hatch, a senior member of the U.S. Senate, agrees.

“This is not about getting rid of a monument, it’s reconfiguring it so that it's in the best interest of the people who live there,” Hatch said.

Zinke is expected to tour Bears Ears next week.

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