SALT LAKE CITY --President Donald Trump formally reconfigured two big national monuments in southern Utah on Monday, shrinking them by more than 2 million acres -- a public lands declaration unlike any ever made by a U.S. chief executive.
"You know how best to take care of your land," the president said to a large audience at the state Capitol. "You know best how to conserve this land for generations."
Calling the designation of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments an abuse of federal authority and the work of "distant bureaucrats," the president added: "I've come to Utah to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights to this land to your citizens."
The proclamations Trump signed reduce the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument to 1,006,341 acres, while Bears Ears, which was 1.35 million acres, will shrink to 228,784 acres. Five new sub-units are being established within the new boundaries.
The Grand Staircase monument was established by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and Bears Ears by President Barack Obama in 2016.
Trump's decision drew immediate threats of legal challenges. Protests also occurred here on Saturday and Monday. The president's national monuments decision forms another front line in the administration's disputed campaign to reverse Obama-era public lands and environmental policy and to energize his base of political support in the rural West.
It also subjected one of the country's wildest regions, a three-county stretch of deep canyons, mesa and red rock -- home to few roads and roughly 28,000 people -- to uncommon national scrutiny.
Trump's actions produced ample applause among supporters as Trump made his announcement. He emphasized that the boundary changes were intended to return control of public lands to those who know and use them most closely.
"Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington," he told the audience. "And guess what, they're wrong."
With his re-designation, he said, "Public lands will once again be for public use."