WASHINGTON — Colorado’s environmentalists and Democratic politicians blasted President Donald Trump’s announcement Monday that he would drastically reduce the size of two wilderness national monuments in Utah.
Some asked whether federal land in Colorado would be next.
“In Colorado, we value our lands because they are part of our fabric and they strengthen local economies,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We hope our leaders can find a way to let monuments remain and return their focus to more pressing issues facing our country.”
He was referring to Trump’s executive order to turn large portions of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments over to private development.
Much of the land is expected to be used for mining operations such as extracting coal. Trump’s Republican supporters say private development would create jobs and boost the economy.
Trump’s announcement touched off protests in Utah, Colorado and elsewhere. The White House in Washington, D.C., was blocked off by barricades as extra police guarded against risks of violence.
A few feet beyond the barricades, protesters gathered holding signs criticizing Trump for taking way “sacred” land.
“This is a slap in the face to every Coloradan who cherishes our Western way of life and is a move that threatens all protected public lands and national monuments,” said Scott Braden, wilderness and public lands advocate for the Denver-based environmental group Conservation Colorado.
He attended the protests in Salt Lake City, where Trump made the announcement amid shouts by about 300 protesters of “lock him up.”
“No park or monument is safe from this malicious administration, including those in Colorado,” Braden said.
The U.S. Forest Service manages 11.3 million acres in Colorado. There are eight national monuments.
In Utah, the Bears Ears National Monument is shrinking by 85 percent, or 1.1 million acres, while the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is being reduced in size by about 46 percent, or 800,000 acres.
Bears Ears was designated as a national monument dedicated to Native American culture by President Barack Obama in 2017. President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in 1996.
They were two of the 27 national monuments the Trump administration’s Interior Department reviewed this year for the possibility of turning at least part of them over to private development.
“Under President Trump’s initial executive order signed in April 2017, Canyons of the Ancients was under review,” said Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada. “Reports are it will not be targeted — but you never know. We need to remain vigilant.”
Canyons of the Ancients is the 176,056-acre national monument in southwestern Colorado known for its archaeologically-significant landscape.
The Interior Department is expected to announce other national monuments it recommends to be reduced in size as soon as this week.
Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet called Trump’s decision on the Utah sites “the single largest removal of protection for public lands in our nation’s history.”
“Since the beginning of this national monument review, the president has been in lock-step with a small number of Washington special interests to remove protections for public land in the West,” Bennet said. “Today’s announcement is no different.”
He said cutting the size of the monuments was an affront to tribal groups who treasure the land, such as the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and Southern Ute tribe.
However, Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, echoed the president’s justifications for his executive order when he said, “President Trump’s actions correct the federal overreach initiated by the Obama administration and I support his move. Public lands have been drastically expanded to prohibit public development in the name of the law. But that was not what was originally intended.”
He added that returning part of the national monuments to private use would make it easier for caretakers of the remaining federal property to manage it.
The dispute is unlikely to end with the president’s executive order and announcement Monday.
Conservationists and tribal groups led by the Navajo Nation said they plan to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block Trump’s land give-away. Their attorneys said federal law gives a president authority to designate national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act but not to take the land away.