Haaland says she will work to ensure President hears all sides of land issue

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland discussed her visit to San Juan County at an April 8 press conference at Edge of the Cedars State Park / Museum in Blanding.

Haaland said she had been to the area several times before but added that this time, she was here to listen to the Governor, the Utah Congressional delegation, and tribal leaders, in addition to “local folks and stakeholders.”

Haaland said she was tasked to make a recommendation for the monuments to President Biden and was grateful for the chance to visit the area.

Haaland described pictographs that she had seen and “vistas that take your breath away.  It is pretty clear that people everywhere have a feeling about this area” and added, “The cultural heritage of this area belongs to all Americans.

“These decisions are incredibly impactful to the people who live nearby for generations to come,” said Haaland. 

“We will meet with local ranchers, the mining industry, outdoor recreation, conservation organizations, and the scientists who study the land. I will take back what I learn.  

“We have an obligation to protect lands for future generations and it is important for the President to get it right.  He should have the benefit of all the perspectives that I am hearing from today.”

Utah Governor Spencer Cox followed the Interior Secretary, stating he was grateful for the opportunity to represent the state to a member of the Presidential cabinet.

Cox described the challenge, “We want to protect these lands, but the minute we made it a monument, the people started coming. The more the people come, the more degradation there is to the land.”

The Governor added, “How do we celebrate these areas and not love them to death and not overwhelm them?”

The Governor described the process as “an opportunity for collaborative action” and suggested that a long-term legislative solution is the best option, particularly when compared to the current “ping-ponging litigation and lawsuits.” 

“Ping-ponging is probably the wrong word because ping pong is fun,” said Cox.  “There is nothing fun about what we have been arguing about over the past decade.”

Senator Mitt Romney said that the Biden Administration has an unusual opportunity to bring people together and create more unity through a legislative solution.

Afterward, the prior process to create and reduce the monuments through the Antiquities Act was addressed a joint statement by Senators Lee and Romney, along with Congressman Chris Stewart.

They write, “Several tribal governments felt cut out of the reduction process, just like the majority of Utahns felt when both national monuments were created by Presidents Obama and Clinton.

“This highlights the inherent divisiveness of the Antiquities Act and proves the only way to end this ‘ping ponging’ is through permanent legislation passed by Congress.”

Representative Blake Moore said the Utah Congressional delegation is “100 percent committed to a legislative solution.”

Three tribal officials spoke at the press conference, including Clark Takanohana, the Vice Chairman of Hopi Tribe, and co-chair of Bears Ears Coalition.

Takanohana expressed concern about the legislative approach and wants to see a proposal, adding, “We can talk, but until I see this legislation from the Utah delegation, maybe I can be a believer.”

Other tribal officials who spoke include Carelton Bowekaty, the Lt. Governor of the Pueblo Zuni, and Manuel Heart, Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

After the press conference, Haaland and Utah Lt Governor Diedre Henderson met with a number of elected officials, including the San Juan County Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy, Willie Greyeyes and Bruce Adams; Blanding Mayor Joe B. Lyman; Bluff Mayor Ann Leppenen; State Senator David Hinkins; State Representative Phil Lyman; and Grand County Commissioner Mary McGann.

The group also included federal land managers, including the BLM Director of Policy Nada Culver, State BLM Director Gary Sheehan, BLM Area Director Gary Torres, and Mary Farnsworth, the Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service.

Other government officials included Congressman Blake Moore, The Chief of Staff of Senator Mike Lee, and Redge Johnson, the Utah Governor’s Public Lands Director.

A separate meeting was held with representatives from local groups, including Logan Shumway of the Energy Fuels White Mesa Mill, Dustin Randall, the Ivins brothers, and Heidi Redd.

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