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Utah Monuments: A Washington Discussion Before Interior Secretary Visits Utah Next Week

Judy Fahys
Last week President Donald Trump directed U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan ZInke to review two dozen national monuments, including two in Utah. Next week Zinke visits Utah.

The fight for control over the Bears Ears National Monument has been underway for a week in the polished halls of the nation’s capital – just days before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visits Utah.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Kathleen Clarke, leader of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, told the House Federal Lands Committee that the large national monuments in Utah wreck surrounding communities and their economies.

"Any perceived benefits from the designation of huge landscape-scale monuments needs to be weighed against the impacts that are suffered by those who rely on the lands,” she said. “Landscapes don't disappear, but jobs and artifacts do."

Clarke became director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management during the George W. Bush administration and dealt with impacts from the creation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument a few years earlier. She pointed to that Utah monument as an example of how said local families suffer as natural-resources jobs dry up on monument lands.

While the congressional hearing was underway, San Juan County commissioners were meeting down the street with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Last week President Donald Trump directed him to review the law that created Grand Staircase – the Antiquities Act --  and, more recently, the Bears Ears National Monument, which lies within San Juan County’s borders.

“We feel like we have an ally in the president and his entire administration,” said Commissioner Bruce Adams, who described the new Republican administration as reversing how Washington treats local monument opinions. “They want to hear what the locals have to say and especially the local elected officials.”

Last week members of the Outdoor Industry Association met with Zinke staff to talk about how monuments help local economies.

“I hope they do want to hear the facts,” said Moab businesswoman Ashley Korenblat, who took part in the Interior Department meetings.

“People may be upset about certain types of jobs,” she said. “But to say that you can’t make a living in these places, it just doesn’t fit with what we’re seeing on the ground.”

Monument supporters and opponents are hoping for time with Zinke when he is expected to visit both areas early next week.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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