SALT LAKE CITY — Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell blasted the Trump administration over its ongoing monument review — which includes Bears Ears — a move she says will put the U.S. president on the wrong side of history.
In her first public speech since leaving her Cabinet position, Jewell excoriated the threat by President Donald Trump to dismantle existing monuments.
"This review is deeply, deeply unpopular and out of step with what the vast majority of Americans want," Jewell said Wednesday during her keynote address at the opening breakfast of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
"President Trump is putting himself on the wrong side of history," she added, noting that if any monument designations are revoked, the current president will be remembered as the worst conservationist in U.S. presidential history.
Jewell's remarks drew resounding applause, and at the conclusion, a standing ovation.
Later, at a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards, Jewell said the only change that should come to Bears Ears is congressionally passed legislation that would clarify and strengthen management responsibilities for Native American tribes.
Jewell noted that such unified support among Native American tribes toward a common goal is rare, and speaks to the long history and traditions held by the Bears Ears landscape and its importance.
She emphasized, too, that the monument's designation was inevitable in the face of the failure of the massive Public Lands Initiative legislation to move forward.
That bill, sponsored by Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both R-Utah, was unveiled late in President Barack Obama's final year in office, with language Jewell said was altered substantially — enough that it was considered a "poison pill."
"We were really giving the (Public Lands Initiative) a chance," she said, but language changes gutted protections for wilderness, such as leaving grazing levels the same with no flexibility for reductions.
Jewell added that Utah's congressional delegation and other political leaders knew that the failure of the Public Lands Initiative would be followed by a new monument for Utah in San Juan County.
"The reason it was done without fanfare is because of the timing," she said.
But Bishop said Jewell has it wrong.
"It is disappointing to hear Ms. Jewell reinvent history. Fortunately, we now have an administration that is willing to work with Congress to address the messes left by last-minute orders by the Obama administration. It has been a refreshing change of attitude, but it also means there is a lot of work still ahead," he said.
It was under Jewell's tenure as interior secretary that President Obama made the Bears Ears designation about a month before he left office. The move set aside 1.35 million acres of San Juan County land already dominated by federal land ownership, and touched off an eruption of indignation from Utah's GOP leaders, who said it was an overreach and abuse of the Antiquities Act.
But Jewell said monument designations over the course of history have sparked similar outrage, most notably with Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands and Glacier Bay — all of which were decried by locals at the time.
"It is hard to let go of the known if we don’t know what is coming," she said. "Today we have the benefit of 150 years of history. Today, each one of those places is woven into the fabric of our very nation."
Trump signed an executive order in April directing the review of 27 monuments created by executive action since 1996, beginning with Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and ending with Bears Ears.
His directive to current Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was propelled in large measure by pressure from Utah politicians, including Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who argued the monument designation was vehemently opposed by local and state politicians, as well as the entire federal delegation.
Trump ordered Zinke to look at the monument designations to determine if they conformed to language in the 1906 Antiquities Act, the law that grants presidential authority to declare national monuments.
The language in the law under scrutiny in the context of the monument review, directs designations to conform to the "smallest area compatible with proper care and management."
Last month, Zinke announced he would recommend shrinking Bears Ears National Monument, but he did not indicate by how much.
The review is continuing on 24 national monuments, with additional recommendations due in August.
At her breakfast speech, Jewell called the review illegal and said only Congress has the power to change monument designations.
Information compiled by the Congressional Research Service probing the Antiquities Act and the scope of authority for monument modification indicates several U.S. presidents have made changes over the years.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy cited the Antiquities Act as the authority for him to add 2,882 acres to the Bandelier National Monument and exclude one section of 3,925 acres of "limited archeological values."
Matt Anderson, from the conservative Sutherland Institute's Coalition for Self Government in the West, criticized Jewell's assertion that the review is illegal.
"It’s unfortunate that former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who clearly knows better, is ignoring both history and law," Anderson said, citing a reduction also made by President Howard Taft to cut Navajo National Monument by 89 percent.
"No one has ever questioned the legality of these reductions, as it is clear that a president’s power to alter previous national monuments is authorized by the Antiquities Act. The former secretary’s misleading comments keep us from engaging in elevated dialogue and discussing the heavy burden expansive national monuments place on rural communities."
Jewell later clarified her comments at the editorial board meeting, saying no monument designations have been changed since a federal environmental law hit the books in 1976, outlining federal lands management.
She added, too, that boundary changes may have been made in the past due to mapping errors, something that has diminished with the use of more sophisticated technology.
Utah's ongoing monument controversy, coupled with a move by the state threatening to sue the federal government over control of certain public lands, spurred the Outdoor Industry Association to move its shows to Denver.
Despite the show's departure over political disagreement, organizers Wednesday praised Salt Lake City.
"We are ending an incredible high and 22-year run in Salt Lake City," said Marisa Nicholson, show director for Outdoor Retailer. "We want to say thank you to Salt Lake City."
Later Wednesday, the Outdoor Industry Association released state-by-state numbers on outdoor recreation, including consumer spending, the number of jobs it supports and the wages it generates.
According to the group's analysis, outdoor recreation in Utah spurs $12.3 billion a year in consumer spending and supports 110,000 direct jobs. The industry supports $3.9 billion in wages and salaries, according to the association.
Jewell said public lands advocates must rally and become politically active to support landscapes and preserve access.
"If you are not at the table, you are on the menu," she warned.
Jewell emphasized that the show had every right to leave Salt Lake City and take its dollars elsewhere because of the outright "hostility" shown toward the industry by the state's political leaders.
The Outdoor Retailer show continues through Saturday. On Thursday, there will be a public lands march from the Salt Palace Convention Center to the state Capitol.