What Utah’s congressional delegation wants President Biden to know about the state’s national monuments

Utah awaits decision on Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante boundaries

Utah’s all-GOP congressional delegation is urging President Joe Biden to work cooperatively with them to arrive at a “legislative solution” before making any move to restore the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, which were greatly reduced under the Trump administration.

Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, along with the entire House delegation, penned a letter Wednesday to Biden urging collaboration, consultation and cooperation on the issue.

Utah’s all GOP delegation wants to bend the ear of U.S. president Joe Biden over the fate of two state monuments. The charge is being led by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, left, and Dave Ure, Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration director, hike down from the Butler Wash Ruins during Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s visit to the Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County on Thursday, April 8, 2021. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“As you consider a final decision regarding the monuments’ boundaries and management, we request that the (Interior) Secretary’s report be made available to Congress and that you meet with us before making a final decision,” they wrote.

“Since you issued Executive Order 13990, we have on many occasions urged your administration to work with the Utah delegation towards a permanent, legislative solution to the monuments’ boundaries. We appreciated the decision to extend the initial 60-day timeline and that Secretary (Deb) Haaland accepted our invitation to visit Utah to tour the monuments and engage state, local, and tribal leaders before submitting her recommendation. We also appreciate the continued dialogue between the department and our staff.”

‘Political football’? Biden wants review of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase boundaries

Haaland’s report has not been made public but was delivered to Biden last week.

On his first day in office, Biden made clear he wanted to revisit the issue of Utah’s monument boundaries, shrunk in December of 2017 after Utah’s delegation and other political leaders pushed vehemently to have the monuments reduced in size.

Then-President Donald Trump agreed, much to the protests of environmental groups, conservation organizations and Native American tribes, who in particular hold Bears Ears to be sacred.

With a Democratic victory in the White House, Utah’s conservative leaders have feared that once again, both monuments will be altered via an executive order and the ink of a presidential pen.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in a surprise move that left Utah leaders both stunned and seething. In 2016, after then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell toured the Bears Ears region in San Juan County, President Barack Obama created the monument via executive order.

A coalition of Native American tribes, environmental and conservation groups had pushed for its creation to help stave off looting of cultural resources.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition has launched a six-figure advertising campaign urging Biden to act swiftly to restore the monument, a movement that has drawn support from The Nature Conservancy and Center for Western Priorities.

GOP Utah leaders urge Biden to work with them on Bears Ears, Grand Staircase boundaries
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The delegation is hopeful in this latest twist on the monuments’ fate they can gain the ear of Biden.

“We appreciate your cooperation and willingness to engage thus far, and we again urge your administration to work with us to craft collaborative, consensus legislation that reflects the input of the people most directly impacted,” their letter reads. “It is past time to end the political back-and-forth that the communities in our state have been subjected to for more than 25 years, and you have a historic opportunity to do so by working with Congress.”