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Donald Trump Jr. touts the shrinking of Utah’s Bears Ears as opening land to public

(Rick Scuteri | AP file photo) In this Feb. 19, 2020, file photo Donald Trump Jr. speaks at a rally before President Donald Trump appears in Phoenix. He says the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is a way to increase public access, not develop the land.

Washington • While presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden vows to restore the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and curtail oil and gas leasing on public lands, President Donald Trump’s son says his dad’s efforts to open up access to federal tracts and fix up national parks is a better selling point for reelection.

“The Democrats have been able to spin the Bears Ears notion as, ‘Oh, my God, they’re getting rid of a national monument,’” Donald Trump Jr. said on a conference call Friday with regional news outlets.

“It just couldn’t be further from the truth,” he continued. The Trump administration is “getting rid of belt-and-suspenders-type regulations to allow people access to be able to enjoy these monuments and to be able to do it for everyone to enjoy their public lands.”

“So this administration has gone above and beyond opening up more access to public lands, I believe [more than] anyone since [President Teddy] Roosevelt, you know, when they started the whole public parks program.”

The president's eldest son was answering a question by The Salt Lake Tribune about Biden's stance on Bears Ears but didn't mention Biden in doing so.

Biden served as vice president to President Barack Obama, who originally designated the Bears Ears area in southeastern Utah as a national monument, protecting 1.35 million acres from development.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has previously announced that if elected his administration would “protect America’s natural treasures by permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump’s attack on federal lands and waters, and establishing national parks and monuments that reflect America’s natural heritage, including reversing President Trump’s proclamation on Bears Ears.”

Trump, in December 2017 at the behest of Utah’s elected Republican leaders, slashed the monument’s acreage by 85%, leaving two smaller, disconnected monuments and prompting lawsuits by environmental groups and Native American tribes that are ongoing.

Biden said he'll reverse the changes to Bears Ears and also ban new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters and increase royalties for existing mineral development.

Donald Trump Jr. said his father’s moves didn’t open up the land to development — though internal emails show the oil and gas industry drove the shrinking of the monument and areas inside the original boundaries were later opened to leasing.

The president's son said tossing out the Obama monument declaration allowed more access by the public to public lands.

“This is a big issue for people in Utah as well as all of those out in the West,” he said. The Trump administration “has opened, as of Sept. 1, it’s going to be like 4.8 million new acres of public access that was previously inaccessible for sportsmen/women, for those who are, you know, recreational outdoorsman and women. So this administration has created access for Americans to their public lands.”

Separately, Trump Jr. declined to weigh in on whether Utah Gov. Gary Herbert should mandate mask wearing amid a spike of coronavirus cases in the state.

“Despite the cries of, you know, ‘Donald Trump is a dictator, he’s a dictator,' you know, he’s let the states make these sort of decisions,” the president’s son said. “And so he trusts that those governors will make the right decision with the information on the ground. So if there is a spike in Utah, then maybe you know that’s up to the governor to decide.”

Utah on Friday reported its highest one-day total of new coronavirus cases so far. Herbert has suggested Utahns wear masks when in public, though he has declined to make it mandatory.

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