Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland set to visit San Juan County to investigate Bears Ears

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will visit San Juan County in coming days to take a first-hand look at Bears Ears National Monument.

Details of the Secretary’s visit were still not released at the press deadline, but the visit is planned to take place in the month of April.

Haaland was approved as the 54th U.S. Secretary of the Interior on March 15. One of the first orders of business for the first Native American Interior Secretary was to announce a visit to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments.

In a statement, Utah elected leaders praised the decision to visit the area, stating, “Her trip to Utah will allow her the opportunity to speak with the people who live and work on the lands, whose voices may otherwise go unheard, before making any recommendations to the president,” Utah GOP leaders, including Gov. Spencer Cox and the state’s congressional delegation, said in a statement Wednesday.

They added, “We are also confident that this trip will successfully highlight the need for a permanent legislative solution for determining appropriate boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, with statutory protections to prevent abuses under the Antiquities Act for the state of Utah.”

While it is anticipated that Haaland will meet with local officials and tour the area during her visit, it is not likely that a public hearing or public meeting will be on the itinerary. This is due, in part, to social distancing requirements and the short time frames of her visit.

In January, the Biden Administration announced a 60-day review of the boundaries of the two national monuments. Haaland has announced that the 60-day review will be extended.

Bears Ears National Monument, currently at 201,876 acres, was originally a 1.35-million-acre monument. A group of Native American tribes initially proposed a 1.9-million-acre monument.

A visit to San Juan County by the Interior Secretary has been on the agenda for the past three presidential administrations, with the three recent visits all related to Bears Ears issues.

Secretary Sally Jewell, of the Obama Administration, visited in July 2016. President Obama designated the monument in December 2016, creating a 1.35-million-acre national monument that covered a large swath of federal land stretching from the San Juan River to Grand County in western San Juan County.

Jewell reportedly returned to San Juan County after leaving office to see the monument as a visitor.

Secretary Ryan Zinke, of the Trump Administration, visited in May 2017. Soon afterward, President Trump resized the monument from 1.35-million acres to just more than 200,000 acres. This represented an 85 percent cut in the size of the monument.

Zinke’s official portrait as Secretary of the Interior is of the secretary on a horse in front of the Bears Ears Buttes.

The resized monument was the focus of a massive lawsuit filed by tribal and environmental entities that challenged the right of the Trump Administration to resize a previous designation. The lawsuit is still making its way through the federal court system.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is the first Native American member of a presidential cabinet. She served as a Congresswoman from New Mexico before becoming Interior Secretary.

The Department of the Interior manages a wide variety of government agencies, including several agencies that have an extensive impact on San Juan County. This includes the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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