"I've spoken with many state and local leaders, a number of them here today, who care very much about preserving our land and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab, and it's gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we're going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place."
"This should never have happened."
The president's justification is built on factual sand. "Federal land grab"? Both monuments were already federal land before they were declared. "Preserving our land"? There is no argument to be made that monuments haven't preserved land. "Free it up?" What does that even mean? Free to overgraze and drive wherever we want? We've been there, and no one wants that.
For his part, new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in his press briefing that monument designations have resulted in lost jobs. But when he was pressed to identify such losses, he couldn't. Instead he said his review will determine that.
This must be more than a search for reasons to unrecognize Utah's national treasures. Rescinding a monument would be unprecedented and sure to be a long legal fight, and just changing boundaries will end up in court while changing little on the ground.
Meanwhile, the changes that are taking place in southern Utah — both social and economic — are not caused by monuments and won't be reversed by rescinding them.
Nor should they. While the old guard in Garfield and Kane counties have chafed for decades over their scapegoat, new families have moved in to embrace visitors who want to see what our nation considers monumental. How long before Garfield, like Moab's Grand, flips to recognizing the brand power of national recognition?
And Bears Ears? Well, that adds one more destructive element.
The notion of a Bears Ears National Monument was brought forth by five sovereign nations within the United States. The Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribes — which have a long and sometimes bitter history with each other — came together in unprecedented unity to recognize a land that is both historically important and sacred to them.
The tribes brought their desires to Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, arguably the most powerful person in Congress on public lands. He sent them away and fashioned his own plan — the Public Lands Initiative — that has gone nowhere in Congress.
They went to Herbert and the Utah Legislature, and they weren't just shunned. They were minimized. They were characterized as pawns in powerful environmental groups' pockets. In fact, even the environmentalists were surprised by the sudden rise of Bears Ears. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, long Bishop's nemesis, was pushing the president to expand Canyonlands National Park with a monument declaration.
Left without a legislative path, the tribes turned to President Obama, which is what Bishop, Herbert and legislators knew they would do. Even knowing Hillary Clinton had a strong chance to follow Obama, Utahns decided they would rather go down shaking their fists at a monument than sit down and talk with the Indians.