In Utah visit, President Trump shrinks two national monuments

SALT LAKE CITY -- To a cheering crowd here at the Utah State Capitol, President Trump signed a pair of proclamations shrinking two of the state's most controversial national monuments.

"With the action I’m taking today, we will not only give back your voice over the use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use," he said.

President Trump signs proclamations shrinking the size of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The proclamations dramatically reduce the size of southern Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Bears Ears gets split in two, and goes from 1.35 million acres to just 201,876 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will shrink by about 800,000 acres to 1,003,863 acres, according to a handout from the White House. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton.

In remarks ahead of the signing, President Trump accused prior administrations of abusing the Antiquities Act, which gives a president authority to create a national monument. (Scroll down to watch President Trump's entire speech.)

"These abuses of the antiquities act give enormous power to far away bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here, work here and make this place their home," President Trump said.

President Barack Obama created Bears Ears National Monument as he was leaving office last year and since then, Utah's political leaders have pushed him to rescind it or shrink its boundaries. The monument has been the flashpoint of controversy with environmental and Native American groups urging it to be preserved as-is, while other local political leaders and San Juan County residents demanding it be reduced.

The president joked that he asked if reducing Bears Ears would be controversial.

"They told me, 'No,'" he said to laughter from the crowd. "How did that happen? I don’t think it is controversial. I think it’s so sensible."

A view of the crowd at the Utah State Capitol for President Trump's proclamations shrinking national monuments. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The invite-only crowd attending the Capitol Hill signing included most of the Utah State Legislature, Governor Gary Herbert, Attorney General Sean Reyes and the state's congressional delegation.

After he signed the proclamations, the loudspeakers blared the Rolling Stones hit "You Can't Always Get What You Want." San Juan Co. Commissioner Phil Lyman told FOX 13 he wanted Bears Ears rescinded.

"I would have liked to see it rescinded just because the process was earnestly moving forward when the wheels kinda fell off," he said.

Mary Tso, a San Juan County resident, said she approved of the president's decision. Her family provided translation as she spoke in Navajo.

"It’s her great, great grandfather that lived in that home place and she doesn’t want it fenced up," her daughter said. "She’s very grateful for Trump signing this."

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, whose district includes parts of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, insisted that even without a monument designation that most of the lands will be preserved because they are still BLM-controlled lands.

"We’re gonna get these lands opened up so everyone can see them, utilize them the way they should be and not just an elite bunch of people and they will be protected, I promise you that," he said.