The president's actions were 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.
Trump said the act was never designed to create monuments of the size of the two in Utah. "These abuses of the Antiquities Act give enormous power to far-away bureaucrats at the expense of the people who live here and work here and make this place their home," he said.
Though previous presidents have adjusted national monuments more than 80 times, all but 18 of those changes were made to expand monument boundaries, according to an Interior Department accounting. Though President Woodrow Wilson removed over 313,000 acres from the Mount Olympus National Monument in 1915, none has come close to reducing boundaries by as much as the roughly 2 million aces that Trump removed from federal protection at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
"I'm a real estate developer," Trump said. "When they start talking about millions of acres, I say, 'Say it again?' Because that's a lot."
The president, who was accompanied by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, was warmly received at the state Capitol.
Zinke and other speakers characterized the boundary changes as a courageous effort by Trump to "keep a promise" and respond to the deep hurt that rural Utah communities say they experienced when both monuments were established.
"This is about giving rural America a voice," Zinke said. "There are not many presidents that do what he is about to do." He added: "The president is doing this for the right reasons to make sure that Utah has a voice."
"The little guys' voices were heard," said state Rep. Gregory H. Hughes, the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives. "Voices in the community were heard. This administration has the strength and the will to be there for us. This is a great day for Utah."
"When Bears Ears was designated, it was disheartening for my community," said Rebecca Benally, a Navajo and commissioner of San Juan County, where the monument is. She added: "It was insulting that bureaucrats thousands of miles away didn't believe we were capable of protecting our land."