Interior tags 27 designated monuments for review, days after Trump orders audit of 'land grab'

The Trump administration is moving swiftly on an order by President Trump just days ago to review millions of acres of land under government protection, announcing a list Friday of 27 designated national monuments whose protected status could be curtailed or eliminated.

The list was released by the Interior Department, charged by Trump just nine days earlier through an executive order to review the land designated by presidents over the past 20 years, in what Trump has called a “massive federal land grab" that "should never have happened."

The list is composed of 22 monuments on federal land in 11 mostly Western states, including the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Nevada's Basin and Range, and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine.

The other five on the list are marine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, including a huge reserve in Hawaii established in 2006 by President George W. Bush and expanded last year by President Barack Obama.

Bush, Obama and Bill Clinton were among a host of presidents who protected hundreds of millions of acres under a 1906 law that authorizes the president to declare federal lands and waters as monuments and restrict their use.

Trump when signing the executive order criticized the former presidents of abusing the system and vowed to return such authority to citizens and state lawmakers

“Today, we are giving power back to the states and people where it belongs,” he said.

Trump accused Obama in particular of exploiting the 1906 Antiquities Act in an "egregious abuse of federal power."

In December, shortly before leaving office, Obama infuriated Utah Republicans by creating the Bears Ears National Monument on 1.35 million acres of land that's sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.

Republicans in the state asked Trump to take the unusual step of reversing Obama's decision. They said the monument designation will stymie growth by closing the area to new commercial and energy development. The Antiquities Act does not give the president explicit power to undo a designation and no president has ever taken such a step.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah was created by Clinton in 1996. And Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, created last year by Obama.

At 87,500 acres, Katahdin is the only one of the 22 monuments under review that is smaller than 100,000 acres, the minimum size designated by the order.

The Interior Department said Katahdin will be reviewed under a provision that singles out whether a monument was created or expanded without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders. The land east of Maine's Baxter State Park was bought by Burt's Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, whose foundation donated it to the federal government.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been directed to produce an interim report next month and make a recommendation on Bears Ears, and then issue a final report within 120 days.

Zinke, who will visit Bears Ears and Grand Staircase early this coming week, said the department, for the first time, is seeking public comments on national monument designations. Public comment is not required when presidents create monuments under the Antiquities Act.

The request for comments "finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monument designations," Zinke said in a statement. "There is no predetermined outcome on any monument."

The order has already sparked a sharp response from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups that are concerned about any possible changes ending the protections and allowing use of the land for oil or gas drilling.

“America’s parks and public lands are not in need of corporate restructuring,” the Sierra Club said. “We should not be asking which parts of our history and heritage we can eliminate, but instead how we can make our outdoors reflect the full American story.”

Members of a coalition of five Western tribes that pushed for the Bears Ears designation have said they're outraged the administration will review a decision they say was already scrutinized by the Obama administration, including a multi-day visit last year by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"Once it's designated, it's designated," said Davis Filfred of the Navajo Nation. “He's disregarding the Native Americans, the first people of this nation. This is sacred land."

The 111-year-old Antiquities Act grants presidents the authority to create national monuments from federal land to protect its historic, cultural and scientific significance, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld such changes.

However, Congress has twice limited presidential powers under the act, requiring congressional consent on some future proclamations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.