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Bears Ears: Zinke Wants to Reduce It, Revise Approach to Managing It

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing to overhaul the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, shrinking its size and expanding Congress’ role in protecting the area.

Zinke shared the preliminary recommendations Monday with President Donald Trump, whose predecessor created the one-point-three-million-acre monument in December. He believes Trump should shrink the monument to include important archaeological sites -- and nothing more.

“I’m pleased to say the recommendations I’m going to provide, I think, are in the interests of Utah, the tribes and the United States.”

The announcement won unanimous praise from Utah’s Republican elected leaders, including Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, as well as Gov. Gary Herbert.

“I think it’s great,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams, who heard the news while working in his hayfields. He’s one of the Utah leaders who says the monument should be limited to the smallest possible footprint.

“If that’s what [Zinke’s] intending to do, then I think it’s absolutely in line with the intent of the Antiquities Act and with the desires of the San Juan County Commission,” he added.

Zinke’s proposal basically revives Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative, with legislation in the works for expanding national conservation areas and tinkering with wilderness. It also would have Congress craft new plans allowing Native Americans to co-manage the area.

“That’s a slap in the face of Native Americans,” said Mark Maryboy, a former San Juan County commissioner. Maryboy is also a member of the Utah Dine Bikeyah, a group started by Navajos that wants the monument to stay the way former President Barack Obama created it with input from local tribes. Maryboy doubts Congress can solve land controversies that Congressman Bishop failed to fix.

“I don’t think that’s going to go very far,” he said. “So, probably the best this for us to do is deal with this in the courts.”

Environmental groups called Zinke’s recommendations an attack on public lands that ignores hundreds of thousands of online comments in favor of leaving Bears Ears intact. Nada Culver of the Wilderness Society called Zinke’s suggestions “profoundly disturbing.”

“The real direction we’re headed,” she said, “is dismantling this monument and putting many other monuments at risk through this process.”

Zinke says he’ll make final recommendations later this year. In the meantime, he’s welcoming more online comments on Bears Ears through July 10. That’s also for weighing in on 26 other national monuments that Zinke is reviewing and on possible changes to the Antiquities Act, the law that allows presidents to create national monuments without input from Congress.

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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