SALT LAKE CITY — Newly confirmed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland plans to visit two controversial national monuments in Utah and meet with state, local and tribal leaders in one of her first orders of business.
The Biden administration has also extended the 60-day timeline for a review of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, the boundaries of which have become a political football with incoming presidents.
President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling for a review of the monuments in January after former President Donald Trump drastically reduced their sizes during his first year in office. Republican leaders in Utah encouraged Biden to extend the review deadline and invited Haaland to visit the state.
"Her trip to Utah will allow her the opportunity to speak with the people who live and work on the lands, whose voices may otherwise go unheard, before making any recommendations to the president," Utah GOP leaders, including Gov. Spencer Cox and the state's congressional delegation, said in a statement Wednesday.
"We are also confident that this trip will successfully highlight the need for a permanent legislative solution for determining appropriate boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, with statutory protections to prevent abuses under the Antiquities Act for the state of Utah."
Her trip to Utah will allow her the opportunity to speak with the people who live and work on the lands, whose voices may otherwise go unheard, before making any recommendations to the president.
–Utah GOP leaders' statement
Haaland, a former Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico and the first Native American Cabinet member, plans to visit in April. Her report to the president on national monuments will reflect her conversations with Utah leaders and be sent to the White House after the trip, according to the Interior Department.
Haaland would be the third interior secretary to tour Bears Ears in the past three presidential administrations.
Sally Jewell held the post when then-President Barack Obama created the 1.3 million-acre monument in remote southeastern Utah under the Antiquities Act in December 2016.
Encouraged that the review deadline for Bears Ears & Grand Staircase-Escalante has been extended so that @SecDebHaaland can visit before any decisions are made. We must have a permanent legislative solution—with input from Utah's stakeholders—that resolves these boundaries. https://t.co/BAJU72nu3f— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) March 17, 2021
Six months later, Jewell's successor in the Trump administration, Ryan Zinke, toured Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, ultimately recommending revisions to their boundaries. President Bill Clinton designated the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument in 1996.
Trump slashed Grand Staircase-Escalante to 1 million acres and broke Bears Ears into two separate areas totaling 228,700 acres in December 2017 by executive order.
Utah Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney voted against Haaland's confirmation Monday.
Lee asked Haaland during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee whether she believes local communities should have a role in national monument decisions.
"I think with national monument designations, of course, it's folks on the ground, stakeholders, everyone deserves to have a say in those," she said.
Haaland said she's jealous of the beautiful land in Utah and that she has visited Bears Ears. Lee interjected that the monument designation doesn't make the land more beautiful.
"It does tend to make the communities that don't support them impoverished, and that's what concerns me," Lee said.
Romney said he couldn't support Haaland because of her record and views on land management and energy resources, including her support for "radical" policies like the Green New Deal.
I'm encouraged that Interior Sec. @DebHaalandNM accepted the UT delegation's invitation to visit before making changes to our monuments. Utah deserves a voice in this matter.— Rep. Chris Stewart (@RepChrisStewart) March 17, 2021
Let's work together to find a permanent legislative solution. https://t.co/g0rRdOS1Gt