U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be reduced in size and says Congress should step in to designate how selected areas of the 1.3-million-acre site are categorized.
Zinke made the recommendation Monday as part of an interim report to President Donald Trump on the scenic swath of southern Utah with red rock plateaus, cliffs and canyons on land considered sacred to tribes.
Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the designation of dozens national monuments on federal lands, calling the protection efforts “a massive federal land grab” by previous administrations.
Republicans have singled out former president Barack Obama’s designation of Bears Ears, calling it an unnecessary layer of federal control that will close off new development.
Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to decree the national monument as one of his last acts as president, over the loud objections of almost all the state’s Republican lawmakers.
Park access, preservation at issue
Some were upset the area would be cut off from development and oil and gas extraction. Others said when other areas in Utah became national monuments, locals found their livelihoods hurt by a flurry of new regulations.
“They say that all the access will be the same, that we’ll be able to get our wood, that the grazing rights will stay the same,” Nicole Holliday, who comes from a ranching family in nearby Blanding, Utah, previously told CBC News.
“They say that right now. But I don’t believe it.”
However support for Bears Ears is much higher among the five Indigenous tribes that united to create the park: the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain and Zuni tribes.
Bears Ears has thousands of ancient burial grounds, cultural sites and rock art that date back millennia.
“It’s something that we’re trying to preserve,” said Navajo elder Jonah Yellowman, who comes to Bears Ears to collect medicinal herbs.
“It’s spiritual, it’s our ancestors. They’re still here.”