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Utah criticizes Biden’s new national monument near the Grand Canyon

President Joe Biden smiles after signing a proclamation designating the Baaj Nwaavjo I'Tah Kukveni National Monument at the Red Butte Airfield Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Tusayan, Ariz.
Alex Brandon
/
AP
President Joe Biden smiles after signing a proclamation designating the Baaj Nwaavjo I'Tah Kukveni National Monument at the Red Butte Airfield Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Tusayan, Ariz.

President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Tuesday on a visit to Arizona establishing the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

The move was celebrated by Native American tribes that hold the land sacred and have been fighting for this designation. The reaction from elected officials north of the Grand Canyon in neighboring Utah was less receptive.

The new monument consists of about 917,618 acres of federal land in northern Arizona. Baaj Nwaavjo means “where Indigenous peoples roam” in the Havasupai language, and I’tah Kukveni means “our ancestral footprints” in the Hopi language, according to the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition that drafted a proposal for the monument.

The Tribal Coalition said monument status will protect sites that are culturally, historically and spiritually significant to multiple tribes. There will be a permanent ban on new uranium mining claims in the area. Claims had been restricted since 2012 but that only would have lasted 20 years.

Utah’s two Republican senators both accused Biden of misusing the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the authority to create a national monument from existing federal lands.

“Not only will this decision negatively impact our local grazers, miners, and other constituents whose livelihoods are deeply intertwined with this region, but it will tie up one of our few domestic sources of uranium, a critical component in carbon-free nuclear energy production,” Sen. Mike Lee wrote in a statement.

Sen. Mitt Romney said the new designation is “detrimental to ranchers in southern Utah” who “graze their cattle on the public lands on the Arizona Strip.”

Joining both senators, Gov. Spencer Cox echoed concerns for residents on the border and criticized the use of the Antiquities Act in this case as he had in the past for Bears Ears in Utah.

“As I’ve said many times before, massive, landscape-scale monuments like this are a mistake. These designations increase visitation without providing any additional resources for law enforcement and infrastructure to protect sensitive areas,” said Cox’s statement. “They also needlessly restrict access to the critical minerals that are key to cell phones, satellites, U.S. defense systems and so many other American industries.”

Earlier this summer when the monument was still a proposal, several cities and counties in southern Utah also made their voices heard in opposition.

When the Kanab City Council passed their resolution opposing the monument in May, Mayor Colten Johnson said the Arizona Strip is “basically rural Utah.”

Fellow councilmember and sixth-generation rancher Chris Heaton told KUER he hasn’t received any communication on what this new monument will mean for his business, but he has a lot of concerns.

“We are in the dark, completely,” he said.

Heaton said he lives four miles north of the Utah-Arizona border and his ranch is in Arizona. He said his private property is not included in the monument, but there’s land that he leases that is included in the maps. He’s concerned about what this will mean for his grazing rights and how it will affect supplying water for his animals.

The White House has said existing grazing permits will be respected, but Heaton is not convinced. He’s worried that over time, his grazing rights will be restricted.

The Utah Farm Bureau said in July that over 45 Utah families have grazing allotments within the monument.

“Many ranchers in Washington and Kane Counties in Utah graze their cattle during the summer in the higher altitudes in Southern Utah, and later winter in the lower elevations found on the Arizona Strip. Despite this fact, not a single public meeting was held in southern Utah to address the concerns of Utah ranchers,” Utah Farm Bureau President Ron Gibson said in a statement.

Carletta Tilousi, coordinator for the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, said there may be rumors, but the proclamation establishing the monument does not say anything about restricting grazing or water rights.

“The monument is to help protect lands that are public. And it’s for everyone to enjoy,” Tilousi said.

Gibson said it did look like requests to protect grazing rights were included in the proclamation, “but we will wait to review the management plans.”

The president’s visit to Arizona is part of a three-state swing that will conclude with a visit to Utah and a speech on the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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