SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump is expected to roll out an executive order Wednesday directing an Interior Department review of presidential monument designations over the past 21 years, including the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who recently visited the Bears Ears region in southeast Utah and called on Trump to correct the "monumental mess" created by President Barack Obama last December, said he's hopeful the review will be followed by action.
"I am grateful that the president has demonstrated his commitment to work with me on this vitally important issue and deliver real results for the Utahns most affected by these massive federal land grabs," Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement.
Environmental group Friends of Cedar Mesa said if the review is simply "shorthand" for only listening to political opponents of the designation, it is waste of time and tax dollars.
Hatch, the nation's senior most senator, said he has met privately with Trump to discuss the "egregious abuse" of the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that gives U.S. presidents the authority to designate monuments to protect ancient cultural resources under threat.
On Dec. 28, Obama set aside 1.35 million acres in San Juan County as the Bears Ears National Monument after a national campaign by Native American tribes and environmental groups pushed for protections for the culturally rich landscape.
The designation sparked immediate condemnation from Utah's conservative politicians, who denounced the move as a late-hour exercise in overreach by a Democratic president on his way out the door.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said in an interview Monday on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show" that Trump is going about it the "right way" by undertaking a review of designations, particularly those with a large footprint.
"(Trump) is going to ask for a review by the secretary of the Interior and then a report, and probably also a report coming from the Department of Justice on what options the president has under the Antiquities Act," Bishop said.
There's more than just Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante up for review and possible action, he pointed out, listing monuments in Maine, Nevada and the Pacific Ocean that been accompanied by controversy.
No president has ever rescinded a monument designation in U.S. history, but Bishop said that doesn't mean it can't be done.
"What can be done by fiat can be undone by fiat," Bishop said.
Congress, he added, reduced in size one monument by 90 percent, so there are legislative options available as well.
Willie Grayeyes, board chairman of Native American advocacy organization Utah Dine Bikeyah, predicted the Bears Ears National Monument will withstand the scrutiny of the Trump administration.
“It would seem that this executive order may suggest that the White House realizes it does not have the legal authority to diminish or undo Antiquities Act proclamations. So while (Utah Dine Bikeyah) condemns this partisan attack, we also believe Bears Ears National Monument to be the most qualified area designated in the past 21 years, and also the most thoroughly studied, researched and vetted by all sides," he said.
"This monument enjoys wide support in Utah, is an economic driver for our reservation communities here in San Juan County, and it enables more local control and stewardship of the region by local tribes and Utahns," Grayeyes added.
Friends of Cedar Mesa, a conservation group that pushed strongly for the monument, added that the review would be welcome if it's conducted with sincerity.
"I welcome any real, fact-based review of the Bears Ears monument, which holds more archaeological sites than any other U.S. national park or national monument," said Josh Ewing, the group's executive director.
"As you know, former (Interior) Secretary Sally Jewell spent extensive time studying this issue, spending multiple days on the ground and hosting a public meeting with more than 1,500 people," Ewing said. "If that kind of effort is taken to talk to all sides — most importantly sovereign Native American tribes — I'm confident a review will confirm the international importance of the Bears Ears cultural landscape."
But Bishop said it is imperative — and better for Native Americans with an interest in the area — for the monument to come about through legislation.
He said he will have a bill ready to go should the designation be undone and stressed that it will have "the right kind of management, the right kind of protections. We will do it the right way."
Both Bishop and Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, said the congressional appetite may be ripe for a makeover of the Antiquities Act to assure a more public process.
"I think it is time for a real review of the Antiquities Act and to get it on par to where it should be," Matheson said. "One of the important things to remember is that the language of the Antiquities Act is that it should be used to protect the smallest area possible. … The review the president is calling for is a great step one, but Congress needs to get involved."