On October 27, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said President Trump had approved a significant reduction in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments.
Later in the day, Presidential spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the trip to Utah. “I’m not going to get ahead of the president’s announcement on the specifics of that,” said Sanders, “but I can tell you he will be going to Utah in the first part of early December and we will release more details at that point, if not before.”
While details were not released about the new boundaries, Senator Hatch quoted President Trump as saying the new boundaries would follow the recommendations of Utah leaders.
Local and state leaders have recommended significant reductions, with some statements that the new monument could be less than one-tenth the size of the initial designation of 1.35 million acres.
Under previous statements, it is believed that the new boundaries will not include any land that already has enhanced federal land protections, such as wilderness designation or wilderness study areas.
Recommendations for inclusion in the new monument boundaries are areas around the Bears Ears Buttes and portions of Cedar Mesa and Arch Canyon.
Inclusion of the Dugout Ranch is unknown. The Nature Conservancy owns the Dugout Ranch and has asked that the designation not be changed.
Bears Ears National Monument was designated by President Barack Obama on December 28, 2016 through use of the Antiquities Act.
The 1.35-million acre monument currently makes up more than 25 percent of the land mass of San Juan County.
The designation was opposed by every elected official with direct responsibility for the area, including county commissioners, state legislators, statewide elected officials, members of the Utah Congressional delegation, and – after Trump took the oath of office in January, 2017 – by the President himself.
In May, Trump instructed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to investigate recent use of the Antiquities Act and recommend a course of action.
Zinke recommended the boundaries be cut on a handful of monuments, and Trump has apparently accepted the recommendation.
No details have been announced about the visit, so it is not known if the President will visit the actual monuments.
When Grand Staircase was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the declaration was made from the Grand Canyon, more than 200 driving miles from the monument.
When Bears Ears was designated on December 28, 2016, President Barack Obama was vacationing in Hawaii, more than 3,000 miles from San Juan County. Obama was literally as far away as he could be from the actual monument and still be in the United States.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced that Trump had called to discuss the recommendation to reduce the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.
Herbert said, “I appreciate the President and the Secretary’s efforts to listen to local concerns and seek a balance when it comes to the complex issues of managing and protecting our public lands.”
Herbert added, “Our recommendations have been, first, that any new boundaries protect the extraordinary antiquities within these areas.
“Second, that local Native Americans be given meaningful co-management of the lands in the Bears Ears region.
“And finally, that Congress be urged to pass appropriate protections for federal lands throughout Southern Utah.”
In a staetment, the San Juan County Commission said, “As a Commission, we are thrilled the years of meetings, countless hours of discussion and tirelessly dedicated advocacy has resulted in our voices being heard by President Trump and Secretary Zinke.
“We take heart in our shared belief that the people of San Juan will continue to take special care of these magnificent lands. This is our home, no one wants to see it protected... more than we do.”
Groups that supported the initial creation of the monument expressed disappointment with the announcement.
Willie Grayeyes, chairman of Utah Diné Bikéyah, said, “Secretary Zinke refused to meet with the Native American community in San Juan County.
“Instead of further agitating our community along racial lines, we ask President Trump to stop the harm he is causing. Please leave all protections in place.”
Environmental groups have threatened legal action if the monument is cut back.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We will fight any illegal attempt by this administration.”