These southern Utah sites were once off limits to development. Now, Trump will auction the right to drill and mine there.

The Trump administration has finalized plans to expand drilling, grazing and other forms of development across a broad area of southern Utah that used to be protected as two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The decision comes more than two years after Trump dramatically cut the size of both monuments and will likely intensify a legal battle with tribes and conservation groups who have sought to have the protected areas restored.

The expanses of windswept badlands, narrow slot canyons and towering rock formations are sacred to several Native American nations and prized by paleontologists and outdoor enthusiasts. Bears Ears contains tens of thousands of cultural artifacts and rare rock art; in the rock layers of Grand Staircase, scientists have unearthed 75 million-year-old dinosaur fossils.

The monuments were established under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which empowers a president to protect public lands of archaeological significance. Grand Staircase was first designated as a national monument by Bill Clinton in 1996; Bears Ears was established by Barack Obama twenty years later.

After Trump’s Interior Department redrew the monuments’ boundaries, Grand Staircase is half its former size and Bears Ears has shrunk by 85 percent.

A coalition of groups sued the administration immediately after Trump announced the monuments’ new boundaries. They argue that the act does not give a president the authority to revoke their predecessors’ national monument designations.

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