President Donald Trump made history in Utah by declaring the largest-ever reduction in the protected lands.
The president announced his decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments by 1.1 million and 800,000 acres each, a comparative reduction of 85 and 46 percent, The Washington Post reports. The monuments were respectively designated by former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton using powers granted by the Antiquities Act.
The monuments have been on Trump's radar since before Obama designated Bears Ears in late 2016, over one month after Trump was elected president. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch traveled to an Arizona campaign rally just days before the election to talk to Trump's eldest son about getting rid of the then-upcoming monument.
Despite the support the monument received from environmentalists and local tribes, the Utah federal delegation has been unanimously adamant about cutting it.
"Every elected official from the mayors to the commissioners, every single elected representative, got engaged in it," said Boyd Matheson, president of the monument-opposed Sutherland Institute. "It was the real, Utah cumulative, everybody-pull-together kind of thing."
Just five days after Trump took office, Hatch sat down with Trump in the White House to discuss Bears Ears. The next month, then-Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz brought Trump a letter from the state's entire delegation asking him to revoke Bears Ears monument. He also brought a resolution passed by the Utah Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert asking for the same thing.
Communication between the Utah delegation and the president continued for several more months. At one point, Trump referred to the reduction or removal of Utah's protected lands as "Orrin's monument thing."
According to a White House official who spoke to the The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, Trump "really likes" Hatch because he supports and defends him, praises his children and can be funny.
Trump acknowledged Hatch when he ordered a review of all monuments designated since 1996 back in April, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
"I also want to recognize Sen. Orrin Hatch, who -- believe me, he’s tough," the president said at the time. "He would call me and call me and say, 'You got to do this.' Is that right, Orrin?"
Orrin, who was present at the executive order signing, replied, "That's right."
"You didn’t stop," Trump continued. “He doesn’t give up. And he’s shocked that I’m doing it, but I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do. But I really have to point you out, you didn’t stop."
On Dec. 4, protesters assembled outside the state's capitol as the president signed the order to shrink the monuments, chanting "Lock him up!" and holding signs that read, "Fake President," and, "P**sy Grabber." The Salt Lake Tribune reports that a coalition of five Native American tribes are planning to sue.
Conservatives, meanwhile, have been ecstatic. One supporter of Trump's decision, Don Peay of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, took out a one-page ad in the state's major Sunday newspapers to praise Trump for "hearing the voice of the Utah people, and for protecting our lands, wildlife and heritage of our public lands."