SALT LAKE CITY — Bears Ears National Monument could be reduced to 160,000 acres, according to a New York Times report citing unnamed congressional aides familiar with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's monument report given to President Donald Trump on Thursday.
That Bears Ears' boundaries are under consideration for reduction is no surprise given Zinke's announcement in July that the 1.35 million-acre monument in San Juan County should be "right-sized."
There's no other information to indicate the relevance and rationale behind a reduction to 160,000 acres, which is about a one-twelfth of what President Barack Obama set aside last December.
The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which pushed for the designation along with a coalition of environmental groups, blasted the news that the monument might be reduced that much.
“Secretary Zinke’s recommendation is an insult to tribes. He has shown complete disregard for sovereign tribes with ancestral connections to the region, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of people who have expressed support for Bears Ears National Monument,” stated Carleton Bowekaty, Zuni councilman and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition co-chairman.
“The designation of Bears Ears National Monument was a celebratory moment where our voice was finally heard, and our cultural and spiritual heritage was respected,” added Davis Filfred, Navajo Nation Council delegate. "Our tribes stand together and are willing to go into battle in terms of litigation, and we are here to fight for our monument."
But not all Native Americans, particularly those who live in San Juan County, favored the monument's creation.
"Personally, I think the monument designation hurts tribal communities. Placing a national monument over 11 layers of existing federal protection laws hurts more than helps preserve Native American cultural resources in terms of our historic cultural sites and sacred artifacts," said Ryan Erik Benally, a Montezuma Creek resident with the Navajo Nation's Red Mesa Chapter House.
"We’ve already seen the power of these stronger federal laws enforced during the 2009 FBI raids of which individuals were charged with violations to Archeological Resources Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act," Benally said.
"Pushing for a federal monument simply to increase sales in the tourism industry was the wrong approach to protecting these sacred areas since it only invites crowds of people. … We’re seeing Moab’s struggles to preserve (its) area parks."
Zinke has only publicly released a two-page executive summary of his monument review, which began in April at Trump's direction via executive order.
It's unclear when the full list of recommendations will be made public, a move that has set off a firestorm of anger from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the draft document.
In Utah, conservative politicians greeted the end of the review with praise. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who talked with Zinke on Wednesday about the recommendations, indicated he felt "good" about proposed changes.
On Friday, the San Juan County Commission released a statement after the review had been completed in support of the process.
"We are grateful for Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration for their thoughtful review of Bears Ears and the other 21 monuments. We have always believed that Secretary Zinke listened to all sides and worked to make a decision based on facts. We look forward to the coming months and seeing the decision of this administration."
The commission said the Antiquities Act — which gives presidents the power to designate monuments — needs to be changed.
"No president should have unilateral control to designate monuments. While there are sometimes appropriate situations for monument designation, often monument designation becomes a political play. The consequences cripple local economies and communities. "
Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments were two of eight that Zinke visited on his tour of monuments under review.
At nearly 1.9 million acres, it's likely that Grand Staircase will be on the list of monuments with boundaries in play to be reduced.
The Utah Legislature, in a resolution sent to Trump this year, recommended a reduction to 200,000 acres.
Zinke's website Friday showed excerpts from editorials and newspapers around the country, where state leaders, like in Utah, praised the yet to be disclosed recommendations.
The posting included Hawaii, the New England area and New Mexico.