Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump Tells Utah Leaders He'll Shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase

Howard Berkes
Wolfman Panel petroglyphs in Bears Ears National Monument, Utah. There's still no word on whether this panel and other important sites would be protected within a smaller Bears Ears National Monument.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he received a surprise phone call from President Donald Trump Friday about shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument. In a news release, Hatch says the president told him: “I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin.”

How much land will lose national monument status is still unknown, but some news outlets have been saying it could be a fraction of Bears Ears’ original size, which is 1.35-million acres.

“It's really gratifying to have the president of the United States paying attention to our concerns out here,” says Phil Lyman, a San Juan County Commissioner.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said in a statement that Trump is following the state’s recommendations on Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase. He also said local voices, Native Americans and Congress are important going forward.

But environmental groups call Trump’s promised move illegal, and vow to fight it.

Credit Howard Berkes / NPR
Kivas where ancient religious rituals were conducted are among the sites that the Bears Ears National Monument designation was intended to protect. But the Trump administration wants to trim the current boundaries.

“We’ll be working to send a strong signal to the president that we want to defend our national monuments,” says Ashley Soltysiak, who leads the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, “that we want to see our public lands protections expanded, we want to see better funding for our national parks.”

Trump is planning to visit Utah in December. He might wait until then to announce the details of his decision, or he could do it earlier, said White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.