Utah House GOP Leaders Back Resolution To Undo Bears Ears

Jan 30, 2017

Credit Jon Kovash

With the arrival of a new administration in the White House, Utah Republicans are looking to undo the Bears Ears monument designation made by President Barack Obama.

Utah House Speaker and Republican Greg Hughes has unveiled a legislative resolution that urges President Donald Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County. 

HCR11 seeks to undo the newly minted monument, which President Barack Obama created using the Antiquities Act shortly before leaving office.

The monument, which covers 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah, puts protections in place for archeological sites in the region. Many Utah GOP leaders, including the entire congressional delegation in Washington DC, opposed the creation of the monument. They say the designation was an example of federal overreach of public lands.

Rep. Ken Ivory, a Republican from West Jordan and a strong proponent of state control of public lands, is one of the state legislature’s most vocal objectors to the monument.

“When they hold a gun to your head and they steal, I mean outright steal 109,000 acres of school trust land within this monument, private land within this monument,” Ivory said. “They just sweep it in, they don’t even care. Think about it. There’s 109,000 acres of land that’s owned by the school kids, that President Obama, with a stroke of his pen, just said, ‘Mine.’”

Environmental conservation groups and six of the seven Navajo tribes in Utah supported the designation of the monument. Cynthia Wilson of Utah Dine Bikeyah, a nonprofit advocacy group with representatives from local Navajo tribes, says Utah lawmakers have disregarded tribal input on the matter.

“They’ve been ignoring the tribes who have worked hard on making this proposal work,” Wilson said. “And it all started with the grassroots Native American elders who wanted the protection and we advanced that proposal for seven years. I think the Utah politicians have never considered the local Native American peoples’ voice.”

House Minority Leader Democrat Brian King of Salt Lake City also believes state legislators are “out of touch” with the wishes of constituents and thinks there will be opposition to the resolution during public hearings.

“My hope is that the public comes along and says look, we favor the best way of preserving that beautiful area down in southern Utah,” King said. “And the best way of doing it, many reasonable minds will conclude, is through a national monument designation from the federal government, as opposed to just allowing local control or even state control down there.”

A similar measure by Kanab Republican Rep. Mike Noel would ask congress to shrink the size of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument declared by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

While the boundaries of some national monuments have been slightly revised in the past, no national monument designation has ever been entirely revoked.