Dec. 4 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Monday downsized two national monuments during his visit to Utah, saying previous administrations "severely abused" the Antiquities Act used to protect the land.
Speaking to a crowd in Salt Lake City, the president signed two proclamations shrinking the size of two national monuments in Utah: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.
"When you look upon [Utah's] many winding canyons and glowing vistas, you marvel at the beauty of God's great creation," Trump said.
"Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They're wrong."
On Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's recommendation, Trump ordered a review of all national monuments preserved under the Antiquities Act, dating back to former President Bill Clinton's naming of the Grand Staircase-Escalante a protected monument in 1996.
Trump said the Antiquities Act should only used to protect "the smallest necessary area."
"Past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of [the] century-old law," he said. "These abuses of the Antiquities Act have not just threatened your local economies. They threaten your very way of life. They threaten your hearts."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other Utah government officials had called for a reduction in the size of the two protected lands, which together cover more than 3 million acres. The areas have tourism value, are the site of numerous dinosaur fossils and are regarded as important to local Native American tribes.
Proponents of the reduction, to about 100,000 acres, include cattle ranchers who have leased the land for generations for cattle grazing, and those favoring opening it to private development and drilling.
Trump is not expected to visit either area on his trip to Utah, which was criticized by conservationists and tribal leaders who sought protection of the Bears Ears for decades.
"This illegal action will cement Trump's legacy as one of the worst presidents in modern history," said Randi Spivak of Tucson's Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump has no clue how much people love these sacred and irreplaceable landscapes, but he's about to find out. He's shown his blatant disregard for public lands, Native Americans and the law. We look forward to seeing him in court."
Five tribes -- the Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and the Ute -- say they are prepared for a federal court case in which they can argue that a president cannot change policies under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
San Juan County, Utah, Commission Chairman Bruce Adams said many county residents seek an exemption of the county or the state from the law, and to limit a president's power to identify and name monuments.
One resident, Heidi Redd, told the Deseret News that though she wants Bears Ears to be protected, she's concerned about the tourism the national monument designation has brought the area.
"People say we need this designation to protect this land because it's so pristine and beautiful. Well, this area's been here. It wasn't just discovered five years ago. It's pristine and beautiful because we've been good stewards of it."
That's a point on which Trump appears to agree.
"The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best and you know the best how to take care of your land, you know how to protect it and you know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come," he said.
"Under my administration, we will advance ... protection through a truly representative process, one that listens to the local communities and knows the land the best and that cherishes the land the most."