As Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke winds down his week-long visit to Utah, questions remain about the fate of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
The visit was a result of President Donald Trump's executive order to review all monuments designated under the Antiquities Act over the last 21 years. In Nevada, that means the Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments. But Bears Ears was mentioned specifically in the President's order and the one that must have an answer by June 10.
“There’s a lot of feelings particularly in Utah that these monuments are way too large," said Brian Maffly, the environment and public lands reporter for the Salt Lake Tribue, "The Bears Ears is 1.3 million acres. The Staircase is 1.8 million. Those are two of the largest, non-marine monuments that have been designated in the nation.”
Maffly said Zinke could recommend doing away with the monuments or reducing them in size, but Maffly said in his conversations with the secretary he didn't get any idea which way he was leaning.
Zinke's visit has been met with trepidation by some who say he's only meeting with those who are anti-monument.
“I’ve got to say, from what I’ve seen, his view of the Bears Ears is going to be a fairly lopsided one in favor of the forces that would like to do away with the monument. He has been accompanied largely by Utah and local officials who are opposed to the monument,” Maffly said.
A group of Native Americans who spearheaded the effort to get Bears Ears designated as a national monument have been denied access to Zinke. Maffly said people opposed to the designation want to keep local control of the land.
“The monument was imposed against the will and wishes of the local elected leaders in San Juan County,” he said.
However, besides an extra layer of protection, a national monument designation also brings resources to improve the experience of people visiting the area.
“The fact is, monument or no monument, there’s a lot more recreational visitations to that area because of its incredible beauty and people are drawn to ancient Native American dwellings and ruins that are still very much apparent in the cliffs, but there is minimal infrastructure for guiding those visitors in a responsible way or even educating them,” said Maffly.
Maffly said if the designation is removed from Bears Ears some of the same activities going on there now like firewood gathering, cattle grazing, and off-roading will continue, and there won't be oil or gas drilling on one of the main features, Cedar Mesa, anytime soon.
Brian Maffly, environment and public lands reporter, Salt Lake Tribune
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