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Reports: Bears Ears to be cut by 85 percent, Grand Staircase by half

(Scott G. Winterton, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump intends to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost half, according to news reports Thursday.

Leaked documents obtained by the Associated Press show the total amount of land in the two monuments would drop from more than 3.2 million acres to about 1.2 million acres.

The same reductions were reported by the Washington Post, which cited unnamed "individuals briefed on the matter," cautioning that there could be some changes before Trump officially announces the new boundaries when he visits Salt Lake City on Monday.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, told the Deseret News, "The Post has very old and outdated information." But she did not elaborate, saying she had "no further announcement at this time."

Maps of the two reduced monuments were provided to the Deseret News by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The group said they are U.S. Department of the Interior maps but declined to say how they were obtained.

A source close to the monument discussions confirmed that the maps are very similar to recent versions that had been circulated.

The move to slash the size of the national monument designations made under the 1906 Antiquities Act would represent the most significant such reduction made by any president.

Not only would Bears Ears and Grand Staircase be cut back, the maps show they would be split into five separate new monuments.

The action expected from the president would reduce Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres, and Grand Staircase from nearly 1.9 million acres to 997,490 acres, according to the reports.

What would remain of Bears Ears, designated in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama, would become the Indian Creek and the Shash Jaa national monuments, the maps show.

Portions of Grand Staircase, set aside by President Bill Clinton in 1996, would be split into three national monuments called Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits and Escalante Canyons, according to the maps.

A White House official confirmed Thursday the president is coming to Utah on Monday. The Post reported he will announce the monument changes at the state Capitol in front of a crowd of supporters.

The president's trip was announced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, earlier this week. Hatch said the president will also meet with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tour the church's Welfare Square Monday.

But Hatch would not comment Thursday on the specifics being reported about the national monuments.

"The details of the president's announcement are his to make, but I appreciate his willingness to listen to my advice, and even more importantly, to give the people of Utah a voice in the process," the senator said in a prepared statement.

Hatch said he believes the proclamation the president is expected to sign in Utah on Monday "will represent a balanced solution and a win for everyone on all sides of the issue."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the reports are premature.

"Until the president actually opens his mouth, all of this is still supposition," Bishop told KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show." But he also said some elements of the report "sound logical," even if it is too soon to verify anything.

Another member of Utah's congressional delegation, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said Trump's action on the monuments is a "great example" of there being too much power consolidated in the White House.


"I think what all Utahns hate is the fact that somebody else is making the decision for them. I was highly against the former administration coming in and designating the monument. You know, in so many ways, I'm against this also," she said.

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the decision “speaks to the radical nature of Trump’s act. He and Hatch will be judged harshly by history for their foolish and ego-driven behavior.”

The alliance is among what will likely be a long list of organizations lining up to sue the government over shrinking the monuments.

Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, former co-chairwoman of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, said, "It’s appalling that one could think it’s not worthy of continued protection," given the more than 10,000 archaeological sites already documented.

Lopez-Whiteskunk said there are too many organizations ready to sue the government for her to name.

“It will be tied up for a long, long time,” she said.

Grand County Council Vice Chairwoman Mary McGann called the Trump administration’s apparent decision “heartbreaking.” She said it shows a “total lack of vision” and respect for the land, and it dishonors the Native American tribes that favor a monument.

A letter sent to the president Thursday from 189 spiritual leaders from 42 states urges him "to reject any proposals to diminish the size and protections for any national monuments," including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.

"Indigenous people have a relationship with the land that is sacred and central to our way of life," said the Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff, missioner for indigenous ministries of the Episcopal Church.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman said he hopes once the boundaries are in place, the lands will be left alone for a while.

"I don’t think there's’ anybody on the planet that cares about them as much as the people who live here," Lyman said, calling for the "environmental activist community to focus their sights somewhere else and let us have a little bit of peace here."

Courtesy: Southern Utah Wilderness Association
Courtesy: Southern Utah Wilderness Association
Courtesy: Southern Utah Wilderness Association
Courtesy: Southern Utah Wilderness Association

Contributing: Dennis Romboy


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