U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke takes a horseback ride in the Bears Ears National Monument with local and state representatives on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Scott G Winterton, KSL, File

San Juan County Commission wants Biden to restore Bears Ears boundaries

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News | Posted - Dec. 1, 2020 at 7:09 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution that said President Donald Trump's decision to significantly reduce the boundaries of the Bears Ears Monument in southeast Utah was "illegal" was approved by the San Juan County Commission on a 2-1 vote.

The two members of the commission who belong to the Navajo Nation approved the resolution with little debate in Tuesday's meeting.

County Commissioner Bruce Adams said he believed his colleagues were acting with undue haste.

"It seems a little bit premature to me to try to put pressure on him (President-elect Joe Biden) to do this before he has been made the president, before he has taken the oath of office," Adams said during the meeting, which was livestreamed on Facebook. "Those who penned this resolution are in a hurry to get this done."

But the resolution approved by Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Greyeyes asks Biden to make it a "priority" in his administration to swiftly restore the monument to its original size when it was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016.

A year later, Trump slashed and split the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears into Shash Jaa and Indian Creek national monuments, totaling 201,876 acres.

In the days that followed, multiple groups and Native American tribes sued the Trump administration to overturn his actions. The litigation is pending in federal court.

The monument's reduction was heavily pushed by all members of Utah's congressional delegation, a majority of the Utah Legislature, Gov. Gary Herbert and by members of the San Juan County Commission before Maryboy and Greyeyes were elected.

Trump also cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah from 1.8 million acres to about 1 million acres and broke it into three separate areas.

In 2016, then Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Bears Ears and met with leaders of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition who pushed for the area's protection for its cultural resources, estimated to include 10,000 or more artifacts from multiple tribes that include the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni.

At the time, she said she was "shocked" at the lack of protection of the vast natural resources.

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Her visit was followed by that of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke under the Trump administration who toured the area and said while it needed to be protected, the question was the manner of how.

The Bears Ears Monument designation was made via the Antiquities Act, which several members of Utah's congressional delegation have railed against because they assert it grants too much discretion to sitting U.S. presidents to carve out protections without local input.

In his vote against the resolution Tuesday, Adams said the commission should be directing its energy elsewhere.

"I think there are a lot of things we can be doing to help the Navajo economically, those who don't have sewer or water," Adams said. "I think there is a lot more to be done to help the Navajo people than play political games."

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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