Protesters call for Trump to preserve Utah monument areas

By Emily Means

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Reuters) - More than 5,000 people rallied on the steps of the Utah State Capitol on Saturday afternoon to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's expected shrinking of two national monument areas in the state.

Trump is expected to visit Utah on Monday and announce cutting the size of Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where drilling and mining are banned.

Bears Ears is planned to be cut by 85 percent to 201,397 acres (81,503 hectares) and Grand-Escalante to be halved to 997,490 acres (403,670 hectares), the Washington Post reported, citing administration documents.

Trump has argued previous administrations abused their right to designate monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906 and put millions of acres, mainly in western states, off limits to drilling, mining, logging and ranching without adequate input from locals.

There was no sign of counter-protesters supporting Trump on the monuments issue on Saturday in Salt Lake City. There was a rally in rural Monticello, Utah, near Bears Ears, that included state and local politicians who supported Trump's plans.

Pam Johnson, a 64-year-old retiree from Salt Lake City, along with her friends donned brown "bears ears" hats to show support for keeping the two preserves intact.

"We have a beautiful state, and we should leave the open lands alone," Johnson said.

Local and state Democratic politicians spoke at the rally, which also included Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.

"We need places like Bears Ears where the land remains largely untouched ... because that affects the potency of our prayers and our ceremonies," said Branch.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said last month that Trump would reduce the size of the two monuments.

Trump has pushed to roll back regulations that prevent development and ordered a review of 27 monuments with cultural, historical or scientific importance.

"No matter what happens on Monday, we will defend Bears Ears together," Branch said.

The announcement is expected to spark legal battles with environmental groups and Native American tribes.

Bears Ears was designated a national monument by former Democratic President Barack Obama.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was preserved by former Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996.

(Reporting by Emily Means in Salt Lake City, Utah; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)