UTAH (ABC4) – Locals are hopeful after the U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s visits to Utah national monuments.
Owner of Willow Canyon Outdoor in Kanab, Susan Hand attended the meeting with Secretary Haaland in hopes to restore the boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
“The Grand Staircase-Escalante is a swatch of just wonderful wilderness, one of the unique features is the size of it, but it was downsized by the last presidential administration,” says Hand.
Marty Gleave, the sheriff for Piute County hopes for more public land access.
“I believe the land should be here to use, publicly, by everybody,” says Gleave.
Davina Smith is advocating for Native Americans who call parts of the monument home. Part of her worries are companies coming in, possibly extracting minerals.
“My grandfather worked in the uranium mines and because of that there were a lot of health repercussions, not only for my family, but for a lot of families in that area,” says Smith.
Gleave says he would like to see stable, local control on these lands, rather than federal decisions on the boundaries.
Senator Mike Lee says he is asking Sec. Haaland to include local leaders in the decision-making process.
“When you limit someone’s ability to get to and from their home, or their ranch or their workplace or where they want to recreate, that ends up having a very deep and personal impact on them,” says Lee.
Following a three-day visit to southern Utah, the state’s congressional delegation is thanking Secretary Haaland for her time to review national monuments.
On Friday, Utah’s U.S. senators and representatives, as well as Governor Spencer Cox, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Senate President Stuary Adams, and Speaker of the House Brad Wilson, released this statement:
“We appreciate Secretary Haaland’s visit and thank her and her team for taking time to meet with us and with state, local, and tribal leaders as part of the ongoing review of these monuments. During these discussions, we reiterated our desire to find a permanent legislative solution, which we believe is the only path to finally resolving the longstanding dispute over the monuments’ boundaries and management. If the Administration decides to act unilaterally, a legislative solution that provides certainty will be nearly impossible to achieve. And without protections against the Antiquities Act, Utah is left vulnerable to the whim of future presidents. We continue to urge the Administration to work with us to craft a collaborative, consensus plan that reflects the input of the people most directly impacted and ends the political back-and-forth that our communities have been subjected to for more than 25 years.”
Secretary Haaland, while visiting Utah, made field visits and held meetings with elected officials, tribal leaders, and stakeholders of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Her visit is part of the Biden administration’s review of the monuments’ boundaries and management conditions.
“This has been a special trip, and I deeply appreciate the many people who took time to share their wisdom, perspectives, and prayers with me,” says Secretary Haaland. “How we manage public lands and national monuments is important – not just to the Tribes and ranchers and elected leaders and others who I met with this week, but to the many generations to come. I look forward to sharing what I heard and saw with President Biden so he has the benefit of these perspectives as we chart a path forward on the stewardship of these incredible culturally rich places.”
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.