SALT LAKE CITY (CN) — Environmentalists took to the Utah state capitol en masse Saturday, rallying against President Donald Trump’s enormous slashes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
Trump was to arrive in the Beehive State late Monday morning to announce significant cuts to the size of the monuments, which were designated by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
Trump signed an executive order in April telling Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to examine any national monument larger than 100,000 acres that was established in the past 21 years.
In September, Zinke recommended reducing the size of four monuments, including Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon and Gold Butte in Nevada.
Bears Ears spans 1.3 million acres in San Juan County, in southeastern Utah. It preserves a large swath of natural resources that surround the main natural feature of the area – a pair of mesas that resemble two ears of a bear. The land contains several sites with ancient artifacts from Native American tribes and is sacred to the Navajo, Ute, Pueblo and Hopi.
President Obama designated the monument, one of the largest by land mass in the nation, on Dec. 28, 2016, weeks before leaving the Oval Office.
Bureau of Land Management documents show oil and gas companies have explored land within Bears Ears and found vast deposits of hydrocarbons, off limits for development.
Grand Staircase-Escalante protects 1.8 million acres in southern Utah and is filled with spectacular plateaus, gulches, canyons and natural arches. The monument is rife with fossils including several distinct kinds of dinosaur bones.
Documents show Trump will shrink Bears Ears by 85 percent, from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante is to be halved, from 1.9 million acres to 997,490 acres.
It would be the first such move by a president in nearly a century, when Woodrow Wilson nearly halved the acreage of Mount Olympus National Monument in Washington State.
The Utah Highway Patrol estimated 5,000 demonstrators attended the weekend protest.
Amid a backdrop of smog and pastel clouds that hugged the Uintah and Wasatch Mountains, demonstrators carried brazen signs ranging from “Don’t [Land] Grab My Pussy” to “Keep Your Tiny Hands Off Our Public Lands” to “Beauty and the Beast.”
Native American groups danced and formed drum circles, and speakers included state and local Democratic leaders and Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.
“We need places like Bears Ears, where the land remains largely untouched … because that affects the potency of our prayers and our ceremonies,” Branch said.
Branch said the tribes who helped create Bears Ears will sue the federal government if any monuments are shrunk.
“This land is special to all five tribes who have come there for prayers, healing and spiritual rites,” Branch said. “I want President Trump to know we will defend Bears Ears together.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called protecting the monuments a “family values issue.”
“We say yes to indigenous people and what they say about Mother Nature,” Biskupski said.
Trump supporters gathered separately Saturday in rural Monticello, near Bears Ears. Speakers included several county commissioners and city council members.
Protesters returned to the Utah Capitol on Sunday, where 113 demonstrators dressed in white jumpsuits spelled out “Go Home Trump” on the south lawn.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, last week released a video thanking Trump for accepting his invitation to the state.
Hatch previously called the Bears Ears designation a “federal land grab.”
“The outcome [Trump] is planning to announce strikes an excellent balance, where everybody wins,” Hatch said Saturday.
Hatch will travel with Trump on Air Force One, to land at the Air National Guard Base near Salt Lake City International Airport.
Trump is slated to meet with Mormon leaders before announcing the monument boundaries. He will not stay overnight in Utah, and is expected to return to Washington, D.C., by early evening.