Deb Haaland will make her first foray into Utah as Interior secretary this week, traveling Thursday to San Juan County, where she will hear from tribes, elected leaders and other “stakeholders” about the fate of Bears Ears National Monument.
The secretary will tour the monument in the early afternoon and then meet with local elected leaders later that day, according to an advisory issued by the Interior Department that was short on details about the visit. The advisory indicates she will also travel to Kane County, home to part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It did not say exactly when she would go there.
Haaland’s trip comes in response to President Joe Biden’s executive order for a review of then-President Donald Trump’s controversial move stripping 2 million acres from Utah’s two large national monuments. The order instructs her to provide recommendations regarding monument management and boundary revisions.
Biden campaigned on a pledge to restore Utah’s national monuments and protect 30% of the nation’s lands by 2030.
Also Thursday and Friday, Haaland, a former New Mexico Democratic congresswoman, is expected to meet with Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox and other top state leaders, who are in uniform opposition to the restoration of either national monument absent congressional action. Under the Antiquities Act, Biden holds the power to restore the monuments to their original sizes, or even enlarge them.
The first Native American to serve in a president’s Cabinet, Haaland is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, which has cultural affiliations with two of the tribes that proposed the Bears Ears monument six years ago.
Haaland’s appearance in Utah marks the third visit by an Interior secretary to San Juan County to consider the Bears Ears question. The first was in July 2016, when Sally Jewell came at the direction of then-President Barack Obama, leading up to his designation of a 1.3 million-acre national monument, substantially less than the nearly 2 million proposed by five tribes with ancestral ties to the region.
Ryan Zinke came the following year at the direction of Trump, who later slashed the monument by 85% to about 200,000 acres, at Zinke’s recommendation, carving out many of the areas the tribes had specifically highlighted as needing protection.
Also at Zinke’s recommendation, Trump cut about 900,000 acres from the Grand Staircase, nearly halving the monument designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
Zinke met almost exclusively with critics of the monument designations while touring southern Utah, and his private meetings with commissioners from San Juan, Garfield and Kane counties became the subject of a lawsuit alleging violations of Utah’s open meetings laws.
It was unclear Monday whether the public would be welcome to Haaland’s meetings with elected county commissions.
The Interior Department press officers did not respond to requests for further details.