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Update: A second accuser emerges with misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: We take you to a state where more than 60,000 kids are chronically absent from school; and we'll let you know why the rural digital divide can be a twofold problem.

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Public Comments Sought on Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed four alternative management plans each for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. (BLM/Flickr)
The Bureau of Land Management has proposed four alternative management plans each for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. (BLM/Flickr)
August 17, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – The conflict surrounding Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments continues this week.

President Donald Trump drastically downsized the two southern Utah monuments through an executive order last December. This week, the Bureau of Land Management released draft management plans for the areas, outlining options for mining, drilling and other uses for the land.

But conservation groups say the BLM shouldn't be moving forward with any plans until several lawsuits about shrinking the monuments have played out in court, according to Chris Saeger, executive director with the Western Values Project.

"Let's let the rule of law do its job,” says Saeger. “Let's let the authorities and the court system make a fair and honest determination of what both sides are saying here. And then, we can have a discussion about whether or not we keep the protections."

Critics of shrinking the monuments insist they need federal protection as home to important archaeological sites, Native American sacred sites and unique wilderness. But the areas are also known to be rich in mineral and oil deposits.

Today, the BLM opens a 90-day public comment period on the draft management plans.

President Trump's order to reduce the monuments' size was the largest reduction of public land in U.S. history. It cut the size of Bears Ears about 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante by about half.

The Antiquities Act gives presidents the authority to create national monuments, but Saeger says it's disputed whether presidents have the ability to remove federal land protections.

"What the president did was took an unprecedented, and what many legal experts believe to be an unlawful, action in shrinking these national monuments," says Saeger.

The Antiquities Act says protected lands should be limited to the "smallest compatible" area. Some Utah politicians have argued that the two monuments' boundaries were larger than necessary when they were established under previous presidents.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - UT