President Barack Obama moved Wednesday to preserve wide swaths of land in the American West, including a controversial designation making the Bears Ears area in Utah a national monument, pitting him against the state’s Republican governor and congressional delegation.
Obama said in a statement that the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears monument, so called for its distinctive pair of buttes, would “protect some of the country’s most significant natural, cultural and archaeological resources, including important ancestral grounds for numerous tribes.”
A second national monument in Nevada, Gold Butte, preserves 300,000 acres on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
“Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes,” Obama said.
In Utah, the prospect of Obama using his executive power to protect the land drew condemnation from some Republicans and lands-rights activists, who have argued that cutting the land off from development could be economically damaging to the state.
“The midnight move is a slap in the face to the people of Utah, attempting to silencing the voices of those who will bear the heavy burden it imposes,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah.
He said Republicans “look forward to working with President-elect Trump to follow through on his commitment to repeal midnight regulations. We will work to repeal this top-down decision and replace it with one that garners local support and creates a balanced, win-win solution.”
The White House, however, said Wednesday that the mechanism Obama was using to designate the new monuments, the Antiquities Act of 1906, doesn’t provide a way to reverse a previous president’s actions.
They acknowledged, however, that Congress could pass measures restricting or altering the designations.