Haaland submits Utah monument report to White House

Biden is expected to enlarge Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments with Utah poised to sue

(Rick Bowmer | AP, pool) U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland tours near ancient dwellings along the Butler Wash trail during a visit to Bears Ears National Monument Thursday, April 8, 2021, near Blanding.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Wednesday submitted her much-anticipated report to the White House, detailing her recommendations for Utah’s two national monuments that then-President Donald Trump greatly reduced nearly four years ago.

The Interior Department did not announce the report’s submission but rather disclosed it Thursday in two filings with the federal judge hearing the lawsuits that tribes and other groups filed to invalidate Trump’s order and to restore the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.

The newly installed Interior secretary, an enrolled member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo Tribe, visited Utah in April to meet with various stakeholders and tour the monuments. The purpose was to develop a report to guide President Joe Biden’s decisions regarding the monuments.

During his candidacy, Biden pledged to restore the Utah monuments, which Trump had reduced by a collective 2 million acres. That move triggered the lawsuits now pending before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C. Those suits were stayed after Biden ordered the review, which could render the suits moot if the new president decides to restore the monuments using executive powers in the Antiquities Act. Thursday’s court filings simply ask the court to continue the pause in the litigation.

“The parties believe that the Court should continue the stay to allow the President to consider the findings and recommendations in [Haaland’s] report,” Interior’s filings state. “Continuing the stay and allowing the President to consider, and potentially act on, the report’s findings and recommendations would better situate the parties to answer the questions in the Court’s March 8, 2021, Order concerning whether the current dispute has been or will be mooted or whether the current litigation should continue.”

The agency said it would provide the court another status report by July 13.

An Interior spokeswoman declined to comment.

Biden served as vice president in 2016, when then-President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument on 1.3 million acres in San Juan County at the request of five tribes with cultural connections to the land surrounding Bears Ears Buttes. The next year, Trump cut the monument to 200,000 acres, carving out vast areas once occupied by the Anasazi, the ancestors of today’s Puebloan tribes.

Trump’s move came at the request of Utah’s Republican leaders who say the large monuments would take an unacceptable economic toll and prevent the land from being used for the benefit of local communities.

Even though the county commissioners in Grand and San Juan counties passed resolutions calling for the restoration of the Bears Ears monument, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has signaled Utah would sue the Biden administration if it restores either monument.