Interior Secretary makes Utah visit to discuss Bears Ears, Grand Staircase Escalante

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UTAH (ABC4) – The tug-of-war over public lands in southern Utah will continue Thursday with a visit from a U.S. official.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will be the latest cabinet official – and first Indigenous one – to visit Bears Ears. Her visit comes in the months after Utah’s congressional delegation called on President Joe Biden to find a permanent legislative solution regarding the boundaries of these monuments.

Secretary Haaland’s Utah visit

On Wednesday, Secretary Haaland received a briefing on the national monuments from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service employees. She also made a stop at the Bears Ears Education Center in Bluff before meeting with Tribal leaders from the Five Tribes in the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, as well as with Governor Spencer Cox and members of Utah’s congressional delegation.

Thursday, Secretary Haaland will be joined by Tribal leaders and members of the congressional delegation in visiting the Bears Ears region. She’ll hold meetings in San Juan County with stakeholders representing numerous viesws, local elected officials, ranchers, conservation organizations, local business owners, mining companies, outdoor recreation permit holders, paleontologists, and archaeologists.

On Thursday, Secretary Haaland will be joined by Tribal leaders and members of the congressional delegation in visiting the Bears Ears region. The Secretary will hold meetings in San Juan County with stakeholders representing a wide array of views, including local elected officials, ranchers, conservation organizations, local businesseses, mining companies, outdoor recreation permit holders, paleontologists, and archaeologists.

To round out her trip, Secretary Haaland will visit Kane County on Friday, holding additional meetings with stakeholders, elected leaders, ranchers, conservationalists, business owners, and Indigenous leaders.

Ongoing tug-of-war

For years, the tug-of-war over the land has continued. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama designated Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears as national monuments, respectively. During his time in office, former President Donald Trump’s administration shrunk the boundaries of both.

During his first days in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to review the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

Utah’s congressional delegation and other elected officials quickly released a statement in opposition of the order, saying in part:

“We share a sincere desire to find a collaborative, broadly supported solution to the political football of national monuments in Utah, specifically Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. It is imperative that President Biden bring the State of Utah to the table and work with state and local elected leaders toward a consensus product, including a permanent solution approved by Congress.”

Days later, Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney came together to reintroducing the Protect Utah’s Rural Economy (PURE) Act, “a bill that would protect Utah from presidential Antiquities Act abuse in much the same way Alaska and Wyoming are currently protected.” The bill, according to Sen. Lee, would give Utah’s rural communities a voice in local land management policies – a voice they lack today.

In early March, Utah’s congressional delegation sent another letter to President Biden, calling on his administration to find a permanent legislative solution for determining appropriate boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, as well as statutory protections to prevent abuses under the Antiquities Act. They also requested he extend the review period timeline to allow Secretary Haaland to travel to Utah and tour the monuments.

Days later, the Republican lawmakers met with senior officials at the Department of Interior to encourage the Biden administration to work with Congress toward a permanent legislative solution.

At the end of March, Governor Spencer Cox signed a concurrent resolution encouraging the Biden administration to work with state leaders for a permanent solution with these federal monuments.

Haaland, and her visit, will play a key role in deciding what comes next for these areas.

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