President Donald Trump said he listened to the desires Utahns before deciding to drastically slash the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments on Monday.
"I spoke to all of my friends in Utah and asked, will this be good for Utah?" said Trump before a packed Utah Capitol Rotunda building.
"Some people think the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of distant bureaucrats in Washington," said Trump. "They're wrong."
Trump's executive action pulled nearly 2 million acres from federal protection. As expected, Trump shrunk the Bears Ears National Monument by more than 1.1 million acres. He also slashed more than 800,000 acres from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Trump's order established five new, smaller monuments to take the place of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears and 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monuments. The move is among the largest rollbacks of protection for public lands in American history.
"I'm a real estate developer. When they say millions of acres, I said, 'Say again?' That's a lot of acres," joked Trump.
"Your bond with the outdoors should not be replaced by the whims of bureaucrats. They don't know the land, and they don't care for the land like you do," he added.
"From now on, that won't matter. I come to Utah today to reverse federal overreach and restore rights to citizens."
Trump's actions on Bears Ears have been long rumored. The Utah Legislature rushed a resolution through the first weeks of the 2017 Legislature uring the President to rescind the monument created by President Barack Obama shortly before leaving office. The hope was Interior Secretary Zinke would visit Utah early in the Trump Administration to take some action against Bears Ears. That didn't happen as quickly as Republicans in the Legislature had hoped, which led up to today's executive action by Trump.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, who was rumored to be up for a position in the Trump administration, said today's action restores the proper balance between the federal government and the state.
"Are we not in control of our own lands? Do we have a voice? We are a tiny state, but the little guy's voice was heard," said Hughes.
Also along for the announcement was Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who began the whole process with a listening tour of southern Utah this spring.
"I've become an expert in monuments," said Zinke. "The Antiquities Act was never intended to prevent; it was intended to protect. This is about giving rural America a voice."
Zinke also told the crowd of enthusiastic Republicans that Trump's actions were simply him keeping a promise.
"He (Trump) said he would listen. Not many presidents would do what he's about to do. The president is doing this for the right reasons, to make sure Utah has a voice."
The move takes Utah into uncharted legal territory as no president has sought to undo land protections established under the Antiquities Act in more than half a century.