Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Friday after her foray into San Juan County, where she met privately Wednesday with tribal and state leaders to discuss the future of Bears Ears National Monument.
She is leading the review President Joe Biden ordered into his predecessor’s controversial move in 2017 slashing Utah’s two large monuments by 2 million acres. This process is widely expected to result in the monuments’ partial or complete restoration.
Haaland arrived Wednesday in San Juan County, where she was briefed by staff from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, the two agencies that oversee the now 200,000-acre Bears Ears monument. President Barack Obama established the monument four years ago at 1.3 million acres at the request of five Native American tribes hoping to protect the region’s archaeological resources and sacred sites.
She also paid a private visit to the Bears Ears Education Center, operated by the nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, then checked out the ancient petroglyphs at nearby Sand Island.
“Estimated to be between 300 and 3,000 years old, these images are located in an area that was part of the original Bears Ears Monument designation,” she posted on Twitter.
Later Wednesday, Haaland was expected to meet the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition, an organization representing the five tribes that proposed the monument, as well as Gov. Spencer Cox and members of the Utah congressional delegation. The state’s political leaders oppose the monument’s restoration, while the tribes want to see it redesignated to cover the entire 1.9 million acres they had initially proposed.
“Gov. Cox is very grateful that Secretary Haaland is taking time to visit Utah before making a recommendation to President Biden,” said the governor’s spokesperson. “We need a permanent solution on the designation of national monuments, and the governor looks forward to these important discussions.”
While the Antiquities Act empowers Biden to act unilaterally, Cox insists enlargements to the Utah monuments should be approved by Congress.
On Thursday, Haaland is scheduled to visit Bears Ears before holding a news briefing and huddling with local officials and other stakeholders.
Since the Bears Ears reduction, San Juan County voters have elected a Democratic Navajo majority onto their County Commission, which passed a resolution endorsing the enlargement of the monument.
On Friday, Haaland resumes her monument tour in Kanab, a gateway to the Grand Staircase, to meet with stakeholders representing an array of views, including elected officials of Kane and Garfield counties, ranchers, conservation organizations, business owners and Indigenous leaders. Again, state leaders and county commissioners oppose the restoration of the Grand Staircase monument, established at in 1996 by President Bill Clinton at 1.9 million acres.
— Tribune reporter Bryan Schott contributed to this story.