Obama Acts To Save Nearly 1.5 Million Acres Of Federal Land Before Leaving Office

Working to secure his strong environmental legacy from incoming President Donald Trump, President Barack Obama designated two new national monuments on Wednesday. The move will protect nearly 1.5 million acres of federal land in Utah and Nevada.

The full statement from President Obama:

Today, I am designating two new national monuments in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes. 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. Importantly, today I have also established a Bears Ears Commission to ensure that tribal expertise and traditional knowledge help inform the management of the Bears Ears National Monument and help us to best care for its remarkable national treasures.

Following years of public input and various proposals to protect both of these areas, including legislation and a proposal from tribal governments in and around Utah, these monuments will protect places that a wide range of stakeholders all agree are worthy of protection. We also have worked to ensure that tribes and local communities can continue to access and benefit from these lands for generations to come.

While Native American tribes and environmentalists are applauding Obama’s steps to protect the land, Republicans in Congress are already attacking the move and vowing to reverse it when Trump takes office.

In a statement, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called the president’s move “an attack on an entire way of life.” Hatch’s response is unsurprising given his zero percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters last year and a 10 percent lifetime score. Hatch wants to use some of the protected land for development.

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz also expressed his opposition to Obama’s designations, saying he’s “outraged” that Obama would protect the land. Chaffetz called it a “slap in the face to the people of Utah.”

Once Trump takes over next month, Republicans say they are planning to limit future presidents’ power to designate national monuments without Congressional approval under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Despite the predictable response from the GOP, President Obama’s legacy – he has protected more federal land and water than any single previous president – will endure long after he is out of the White House.