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Hearing Probes Dismantling of Utah National Monuments

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was one of two major parcels of public land in Utah to be reduced in size by President Donald Trump in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was one of two major parcels of public land in Utah to be reduced in size by President Donald Trump in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)
March 13, 2019

ESCALANTE, Utah – A Congressional oversight hearing today examines the federal government's dismantling of two national monuments in Utah.

The House Natural Resources Committee hears testimony from elected officials, tribal representatives and conservation advocates on bipartisan legislation aimed at shoring up Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Dan Hartinger, national monuments director for The Wilderness Society, thinks the administration's argument that states should have more say in how public lands are managed doesn't really hold water.

"It's important to recognize that these are federal public lands that are owned by all Americans,” says Hartinger. “And so, while local input is certainly important, it's not appropriate to sort of cede the decision-making on behalf of all Americans to a single state."

The committee, chaired by Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, will investigate President Donald Trump's December 2017 removal of protections from 85 percent of the Bear's Ears monument and significant amounts from other public lands. Committee members will hear testimony on two proposed bills, the Antiquities Act of 2019 and the BEARS Act.

Ani Kame'enui, director of legislation and policy with the National Parks Conservation Association, says the bills, whether they're adopted or not, will bring high-profile attention to the issue, both to lawmakers and the general public.

"I don't anticipate either of these bills becoming law under the Trump administration,” says Kame'enui. “But really, what they do is, they create a community-organizing opportunity and a place for so many members of Congress to demonstrate their broad support for national monuments."

Nicole Croft, executive director of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, says she hopes the hearing will get to the bottom of why the administration took the unprecedented step of removing the protections in the first place.

"[Former] Secretary of the Interior [Ryan] Zinke invited the American people to comment,” says Croft. “And boy, they sure did – 99 percent of those comments were in favor of keeping or expanding our national monuments, and those public comments were broadly ignored. And we don't know why. "

Grand Staircase-Escalante was originally designated a national monument by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and the Bears Ears was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT