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Trump to review national monuments designated by Clinton, Bush, Obama

The newly designated Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is at the center of Trump's order.

By Doug G. Ware
Trump to review national monuments designated by Clinton, Bush, Obama
On December 28, former President Barack Obama designated Gold Butte in Nevada (pictured) and Bears Ears in Utah as new national monuments, giving the more than 1.6 million acres of land federal protections. Photo courtesy The White House

April 25 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Wednesday to review two decades worth of national monument designations by his three predecessors -- likely as a response to backlash from GOP supporters who are upset with land protections imposed by former President Barack Obama.

Lawmakers and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman, announced the imminent order on Tuesday. The executive action could potentially remove federal protection for some of the monuments in Republican states.

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The order means Trump will review the Antiquities Act of 1906, the federal law that enables presidents to designate parcels of land as national monuments.

A wave of discontent began to flow to Trump immediately after his election in November, particularly from conservatives angry with Obama's December 28 designation of the Bears Ears National Monument -- more than 1.3 million acres of federal land -- in southeast Utah.

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Obama's declaration echoed a similar designation in southern Utah by former President Bill Clinton in 1996 to create the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

By granting national monument status, a president designates it for protection -- meaning commercial excavation, including resources drilling, is strictly prohibited. The classification also impacts outdoor activities.

"Past administrations have overused this power and designated large swaths of land well beyond the areas in need of protection," a White House official told CNN Tuesday. "The Antiquities Act Executive Order directs the Department of the Interior to review prior monument designations and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations."

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution in February that calls on Trump to rescind Obama's order and return the land to the state. Utah's GOP congressional delegation has also opposed the new national monument and called for measures to cancel it.

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Part of the reason they want Bears Ears back, critics believe, is so they can start drilling on the land. A Texas-based company was recently given permission to drill in the area. Similar concerns are held for Gold Butte National Monument in southern Nevada, which was designated the same day as Bears Ears.

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Trump's order, scheduled to be signed at the Department of the Interior on Wednesday, won't reverse any previous designations -- including Bears Ears -- but will call for a review, rather, of the law that enabled its creation.

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Environmental and Native American advocates argue that the monuments are deserving of protective status and reflect, at least to some degree, community support for them. In Utah's case, they also fear removing the protection could lead to large-scale oil drilling in the resource-rich region.

"Bears Ears and other national monuments were designated after significant community input because they are a critical part of our national heritage and have exceptional ecological characteristics worth protecting for future generations," Rose Marcario, CEO of outfitter Patagonia, said. "It's extremely disturbing to see the Trump administration apparently laying the groundwork to remove protections on our public lands."

Trump, a reputed climate change skeptic, has repeated his intention to revive energy production in the United States. Since he took office, the president has taken steps to keep coal mines open and revoke Obama-era initiatives to combat climate change.

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