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Critics continue push for monument changes

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL  |  Posted Oct 4th, 2017 @ 5:49pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Critics of monument designations in Utah and elsewhere in the country are not letting up with their pressure on the Trump administration to reduce boundaries and right the "wrongs" of past U.S. presidents.

In a joint event Wednesday hosted by Utah's Sutherland Institute and the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., speakers and panelists also pressed for a drastic overhaul of the 1906 law that gives presidents the authority to declare monuments.

R.J. Smith, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, took his opposition to the Antiquities Act one step further, saying it should be abolished.

"The antiquated Antiquities Act should be repealed, not reformed, because it can't be reformed," said Smith, who is also affiliated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit, free-market think tank.

The livestreamed event included remarks by Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Mike Lee, both R-Utah, who have been at the forefront of Utah's political leaders jockeying for key policy changes in the public lands arena.

Their anti-federal government mantra is fueled in large measure by twin national monument designations in Utah 21 years apart — Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton and the 2016 set aside of Bears Ears in San Juan County.

"Utahns who opposed the monument by supermajority margins at the time of the (Bears Ears) creation were indignant, and none were more indignant than the residents of San Juan County where the monument is located," Lee said.

"San Juan locals were rightly fearful about what a monument would mean for their future," destined to bring closed roads and closed ranches, he said.

Former President Barack Obama designated the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in the final month of his administration after a concerted push by a coalition of Native American tribes backed by environmental groups.

The designation came in the aftermath of Bishop's failure to broker a public lands solution for the region through legislation, and after a listening tour in Utah by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

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Monument supporters say the designation is a long overdue nod by the federal government that recognizes tribal ties to the sprawling landscape and a way to protect sacred lands from looting and vandals.

Ryan Benally, a Navajo tribal member and resident of Montezuma Creek, told forum participants Wednesday the land is already protected by close to a dozen wilderness classifications, a recreation zone, and a series of federal laws related to antiquities that need to be enforced.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase are among of handful of national monument designations listed in a leaked report from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke detailing the need for boundary revisions.

The recommendations, which have only been publicly disclosed in an executive summary released in August, are part of a monument review Trump directed via executive order in April.

The review generated more than 2 million comments during a public feedback period.

Trump directed Zinke to look at specific monuments based on geographic size and controversy.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL
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