Newly-confirmed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland made her first official trip in her new role this week, and she came to Utah to visit the controversial Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National monuments.
“I'm here to listen, I'm here to learn. I know that decisions about public lands are incredibly impactful to the people who live nearby,” Haaland said in a press conference Thursday.
Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, is the first Native American to head the Department of the Interior. She met with local and tribal leaders, state representatives, and stakeholders. Senator Mitt Romney (UT-R) spoke about his hope for the area.
“I hope the president is able to take action to bring us together and to find a permanent solution. I think this is an opportunity for finding common ground, no pun intended,” Romney said.
A permanent solution, as Senator Romney mentioned, could consist of legislation from Congress. The 1.3 million acres of Bear’s Ears National Monument were originally designated a national monument through executive order by President Obama in 2016. Less than a year later, President Trump reduced the area to roughly 200,000 acres. Governor Spencer Cox described the last five years of designations as “ping pong.”
“Ping pong is probably the wrong word. Because ping pong is fun. There's nothing fun about what we've been arguing about over the past decade here. And can we find those solutions? I believe so in my heart,” Cox said.
Towns surrounding the monuments’ borders have been caught in the middle of the back and forth. Mayor Tim Young of Monticello, UT, has felt the impact the monument designation has had on his town.
“Part of the frustration is, you know, we've already seen an increase in visitation, which we expect to, to see even more of but there's no, no plan has been presented on how to protect the area,” Young said. “All we can do is, you know, put our opinion out there and put our concerns out there.”
According to Sec. Haaland, this administration is all ears.
Thank you to KUTV2 for press conference audio.