Moments before President Donald Trump signed a proclamation gutting Utah’s two largest national monuments, he raved about the state’s stunning landscapes.
The president’s brief visit on Monday came at the invitation of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who earlier this year urged Trump to undo Bears Ears National Monument, a proclamation made by former President Barack Obama during his waning days in the White House.
In the Utah State Capitol rotunda less than a year later, Trump said the state’s natural beauty is only surpassed by its hospitable and gracious citizens.
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“I know all of you feel blessed to be living among some of the most glorious natural wonders anywhere in the world,” he said. “You cherish Utah’s gleaming rivers and sweeping valleys. You take inspiration from its majestic peaks. And when you look upon its many winding canyons and glowing vistas, you marvel at the beauty of God’s great creation.”
He then signed an executive order to lop off about 2 million acres from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, creating five smaller “monument units” within the borders of the two.
Land in Utah, Trump continued, shouldn’t be “controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington.” In May, Trump had tasked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review more than two dozen national monuments and make possible modification recommendations.
Zinke met with Utah’s elected leaders—outspoken opponents of the national monument designation, including Gov. Gary Herbert. He also visited San Juan County and met with local government leaders and tribal representatives.
On Monday, Trump called local residents the most vested stewards of the land.
“You know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come. Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away,” he said. “They don’t know your land, and truly they don’t care for your land like you do.”
Despite signing a declaration to dramatically alter the monuments, Trump glossed over the details in Utah. He didn’t mention the number of acres he intended to cut from each, nor did he explain the idea of fracturing two big monuments into five smaller ones. He also implied that the land being removed from national monument designation would be managed locally.
“I’ve come to you to take a very historic action, to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens,” he said.
That, however, is not the case. The Interior Department says the land will continue to be managed federally by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Under the president’s order, Bears Ears will be made up of two monument units, Shash Jáa and Indian Creek, for a combined 201,000 acres. This is a significant reduction from the original 1.3 million acres in Bears Ears.
“Objects that remain within monument boundaries include: the ‘Bears Ears’ buttes, Lime Ridge Clovis Site, Moon House Ruin, Doll House Ruin, Indian Creek Rock Art, and Newspaper Rock,” the Interior Department wrote in a statement.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be broken up into three monument units: Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits and Escalante Canyons, totaling just over 1 million acres compared with 1.8 million acres before the proclamation.
Other than swarms of media and secret service officers, the Capitol was reserved for guests, who met Trump’s proclamation with robust applause. The president was insulated from the protest that had amassed outside.
For about eight minutes before Trump touched on public lands, he applauded tax cuts, reminded the crowd that he was “bringing Christmas back” and thanking a few of his high-ranking state supporters, including Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Attorney General Sean Reyes and House Speaker Greg Hughes.
He also told the crowd about his stop at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s welfare square. “I went around the store. I wanted a nice can of tuna fish,” he joked. “And they had plenty. They really help people. Incredible.”
Hatch, who introduced Trump, heaped praise on the president, saying he stands above the other presidents Hatch has worked with while in office, in large part, because Trump listens, he said. Feeling “blindsided” last December by the Bears Ears designation, Hatch turned to Trump.
“I asked for the president’s help in fixing this disaster,” Hatch said. “Without hesitation, he looked at me squarely in the eyes and said, ‘We will fix them.’”
The Bears Ears fight isn’t over, though. Anticipating the president’s actions, several groups have prepared lawsuits.
Trump signed the proclamation surrounded by supporters. As the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blared from the PA system, the crowd cheered, a chant of “four more years” lived a brief life and then the president left.