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Trump to visit Salt Lake on Monday to announce national monument reductions

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump announces that the United States will designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Washington.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump announces that the United States will designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Washington.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump will visit Salt Lake City on Monday to announce reductions in the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, a source confirmed to the Deseret News.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who pushed for the changes to the monuments, along with other Utah GOP leaders will be with the president.

"I'm thrilled the president has accepted my invitation to come to Utah to discuss critical issues that matter to my constituents," Hatch said Tuesday.

Hatch's spokesman, Matt Whitlock, said Trump will meet with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tour the church's Welfare Square facility during his time in Salt Lake City.

"Sen. Hatch has arranged for the president to meet with LDS Church leadership and to see the incredible work taking place at Welfare Square. In the past, Sen. Hatch has arranged similar visits for presidents and takes great pride in showcasing this iconic facility," Whitlock said.

The White House was not expected to release details of the president's visit until Wednesday at the earliest. Trump last came to Utah in March 2016 for a campaign stop in advance of the state's GOP presidential preference caucus vote.

San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams said he and other area officials will be in Salt Lake City to thank the president personally for taking action on the monument designations made by former presidents.

The commissioner told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright that it was hard to describe "how excited I am for the president of the United States to come to Utah and to actually get to thank him and shake his hand."

Adams said although many residents in the area want to see the monument designations rescinded altogether, "if the reductions are significant enough, I think they would be acceptable to San Juan County."

Don Peay, a friend of the Trump family who helped lead his campaign efforts in the state, said the president wants Utahns concerned about the federal government's control over public lands to know he's listening to them.

"I think it means a lot. It means he cares about the West. It means he cares about the people of Utah," Peay said. He said the Trump administration is "going to listen to local people when they make decisions. That's the way government should be."

Opponents of shrinking the monuments were also quick to respond to the news of the president's trip.

A "Rally Against Trump's Monumental Mistake," set to start at 1 p.m. Saturday at the state Capitol, already has more than 10,000 people interested on Facebook, and a demonstration during Trump's visit is also being planned.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance organizer Terri Martin said the rally is an opportunity for people to show they stand with the Native American tribes and others who sought the monuments.

"It's very clear there are massive numbers of people who want to tell President Trump, and I think the entire Utah delegation as well, that they vigorously oppose the attack on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase," Martin said.

Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said Trump is trying "to push through the largest elimination of protections for lands and wildlife in U.S. history," that will encourage further looting of Native American ruins and artifacts.

"Not only is President Trump's order likely illegal, it ignores comments from more than 2.8 milion Americans who asked the administration to leave these national monuments alone," Rokala said.

Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the president "has no clue how much people love these sacred and irreplaceable landscapes, but he's about to find out."

The Arizona-based group is one of several organizations that have threatened to challenge changes to the monuments in court.

"We're prepared to move quickly," Matthew Campbell, a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said. The organization, based in Boulder, Colorado, represents three of the five tribes in the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

Campbell said Bears Ears was the first national monument created at the request of tribes and the president's decision "feels like an assault on native people because of the importance of this area to native tribes."

The basis of a federal lawsuit expected to be filed after Trump's announcement is whether the Antiquities Act that gives presidents the authority to create national monuments also prevents them from modifying or revoking them, he said.

The Antiquities Act was used in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton to create the nearly 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and by former President Barack Obama in the final days of his presidency to set aside 1.35 million acres for the Bears Ears National Monument.

The president's trip to Utah was first discussed in late October, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a televised news conference that Trump was coming to the state.

"I am not going to get ahead of the president's announcement on the specifics, but I can tell you he will be going to Utah in the first part of early December," Sanders said.

At that time, it was Hatch who announced that the president had agreed to follow recommendations made by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reduce the size of the monuments.

Hatch's office has said Trump told the senator, “I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin,” in a phone call. Hatch's loyalty to Trump has been credited for the president's interest in the issue.

Trump ordered the review of the monuments in an executive order signed in April, and Zinke toured the remote monuments a month later, including on horseback. His recommendations have not been made public.

Adams and others have suggested Bears Ears might be reduced to three smaller areas specifically designed to protect cultural resources, while the size of Grand Staircase could be cut by half.