SALT LAKE CITY — Kane and Garfield counties are drawing new monument boundaries for Grand Staircase-Escalante at the request of the U.S. Department of the Interior as part of an ongoing review of 27 controversial national monument designations across the country.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, told members of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands that producing a consensus map for the monument is no easy task given the amount of land involved — 1.9 million acres.
"What you run into is that it is so massive," Noel said during the Tuesday meeting. "It is not something you can do in a day, a week or even a month."
There were initially two interim maps produced for Grand Staircase-Escalante's potential new boundaries, but Noel said the Interior Department wants one working map for the monument from which to make its recommendations to President Donald Trump.
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams said there have been informal discussions about Bears Ears National Monument boundaries and what areas merit protections, but no directive for an actual map.
The potential reconfiguration of Utah's two controversial monument designations is the result of an executive order issued in late April by Trump directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to take a look at 27 monuments designated since 1996 of more than 100,000 acres.
Zinke stressed during his four-day trip to Utah in May that only those monuments where there is concern local objections were not taken into consideration — and where the designation may broach the parameters of the Antiquities Act — are up for possible modification.
San Juan County | Aaron Thorup, San Juan County
For monument critics, a preliminary report issued June 12 by Zinke provides a clear signal that the designation of 1.35 million acres for Bears Ears and the 1.9 million acres set aside for Grand Staircase-Escalante will not stand.
They contend setting aside such a large swath of land does not abide by the provisions of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president the power to protect cultural artifacts, but within the "smallest area" compatible to accomplish that goal.
The monument controversy has stoked an intense campaign of opposition from Native American tribes and environmental groups who say they will sue over an unraveling of boundaries by the Trump administration.
Both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments offer unique geological, historical and cultural attributes that caught the eye of former U.S. presidents — first with Bill Clinton in 1996 at Grand Staircase-Escalante and then in 2016 with Barack Obama at Bears Ears.
Grand Staircase-Escalante is rich in paleontological discoveries, with a regular treasure trove of new species of dinosaurs uncovered on a routine basis.
Bears Ears is said to hold 100,000 cultural artifacts in a region revered as sacred by five Native American tribes who pushed for monument protections.
Utah's top political leaders have said they don't discount the need for some level of protections at Bears Ears, but they argue that a monument designation of such wide impact is an overreach.
Rural leaders say there are some spectacular vistas and paleontological resources at Grand Staircase-Escalante, but 1.9 million acres is not necessary.
Zinke's final report is due later this summer.