“The President Stole Your Land,” the outdoor retailer Patagonia proclaimed in a widely circulated advertisement earlier this month. The company was reacting to what it called “an illegal move” by President Donald Trump to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah. Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, didn’t hold back his contempt, deriding the Trump administration and “the wacko politicians out of Utah and places” for scaling back the land protections. “I mean, it’s evil,” he told CNN.
Utah’s crime? Its elected officials had the audacity to oppose executive actions, made by prior administrations, that imposed unwanted restrictions on large amounts of federal public land in the state. The two monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante, which together comprise more than 3 million acres, were unilaterally created by presidential proclamation in the face of opposition from Utah’s congressional representatives. On a visit to Utah on December 4, Trump partially reversed those decisions with an executive action of his own, cutting the Bears Ears monument by nearly 85 percent and Grand Staircase by half.
The fight centers on the Antiquities Act of 1906, a vaguely worded law that grants presidents broad authority to designate federal lands that are of historical, cultural, or scientific significance as national monuments and to restrict livestock grazing, timber harvesting, energy development, and other land uses. The act states that such designations should be limited to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” originally meant to include archaeological sites, historical structures, and “other objects of historic or scientific interest.” But presidents have often used the law to place large areas off limits to many traditional uses — without congressional approval, public input, or local support.