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Utah House Republicans push to eliminate Bears Ears Monument, shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante

First Published      Last Updated May 22 2017 03:45 pm

Public lands » Noel says top Utah legislative leaders will sponsor resolution urging Trump to undo the new monument, shrink the old one.

Utah legislators plan to ask President Donald Trump not only to rescind the just-created Bears Ears National Monument, but also to erase large portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument created a generation ago.

"We want to downsize some of its boundaries — protect those areas that people visit, and downsize the rest," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who led a discussion of those plans Tuesday in the House Republican Caucus.

"There's a whole lot of just plain old sagebrush roped into these monuments," he said, claiming the designations prevent ranching, mining or other activities that could help rural economies.

Environmental groups and Democrats blasted the GOP plan.

"The message that Utah is sending by even suggesting this is nothing short of outrageous," said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "This would be a tragic mistake for the president to undo two decades of conservation work that has been heralded across the world as a visionary step by President Clinton to protect a world-class resource," he said, referring to Grand Staircase.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, questioned, "Have they made any attempts to find out what people down there think?"

He said many residents in the Grand Staircase area now make their living in part from visitors to the monument. "I think people are getting a little ahead of themselves."

No president has ever attempted to rescind a monument, and many contend no such authority exists in law.

But Noel — who is under consideration by the Trump administration to become director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management — said presidents have in 14 cases adjusted boundaries or the size of monuments, "so that's a given we can do that."

Bloch discounted that.

"The fact that presidents have made minor boundary adjustments over time, none of which were reviewed by federal courts, does not mean that President Trump has a green light to vastly alter the size of either Bears Ears or the Grand Staircase," he said.

Meanwhile, Noel told GOP lawmakers he feels legal arguments are strong that a president can rescind a monument. "A president can make a monument. Another president can reverse a monument."

But Bloch said the "conservation community would quickly litigate" any attempt to rescind Bears Ears or vastly reduce Grand Staircase.

Ever since President Barack Obama created the Bears Ears monument on Dec. 28 on his way out of office, local elected leaders have hoped aloud that Trump would try to reverse it. Now at the same time, they want him to erase parts of Grand Staircase, which was created over objections then by President Bill Clinton on Sept. 18, 1996.

"Both these monuments are in my district," Noel said. "Both of these monuments were illegal in my view. They were done as a result of wanting to pay off environmentalists," the conservative lawmaker alleged, citing provisions of the 1906 Antiquities Act that require a monument to be as small as possible to protect threatened resources.

Grand Staircase includes 1.9 million acres, which is larger than Delaware. Bears Ears has 1.35 million acres.

Noel said while GOP lawmakers plan to ask Trump for a full repeal of Bears Ears, "If that doesn't work, the next thing would be probably a partial repeal with an area selected around Bears Ears."

He said some talk was made of trying to reverse Grand Staircase after the Clinton administration when George W. Bush took office, but that administration declined.

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