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Politics Interior secretary steps into Utah public lands tug-of-war

07:50  08 april  2021
07:50  08 april  2021 Source:   msn.com

Interior secretary steps into Utah public lands tug-of-war

  Interior secretary steps into Utah public lands tug-of-war SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For decades, a public lands tug-of-war has played out over a vast expanse of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and distinctive twin buttes bulge from a grassy valley. A string of U.S. officials has heard from those who advocate for broadening national monuments to protect the area's many archaeological and cultural sites, considered sacred to surrounding tribes, and those who fiercely oppose what they see as federal overreach.On Thursday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will be the latest cabinet official to visit Bears Ears National Monument — and the first Indigenous one.

Newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is planning to visit Utah next month before submitting a review on whether to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to shrink national monuments in the state, the agency announced Wednesday. Biden ordered the Interior Department to research whether he should restore the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante on the day the Democrat took office. Native American tribes supported the creation of Bears Ears by President Barack Obama, but Republican state leaders had railed against it.

December’s resignation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a chance to reflect on a new interior secretary ’s path forward. Plagued by scandal and ethics investigations, Zinke initiated a disastrous “review” of national monuments. The public spoke up then, too, with nearly 3 million comments supporting national monuments. Zinke and the Trump administration ignored them and stripped protections from nearly half of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and from 85 percent of Bears Ears — designated in response to an historic request from five sovereign tribes.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For decades, a public lands tug-of-war has played out over a vast expanse of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and distinctive twin buttes bulge from a grassy valley.

FILE - This Dec. 28, 2016, file photo shows the two buttes that make up the namesake for Utah's Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will visit Utah this week before submitting a review on national monuments in the state. She's expected to submit a report to President Joe Biden after she meets with tribes and elected leaders at Bears Ears National Monument on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - This Dec. 28, 2016, file photo shows the two buttes that make up the namesake for Utah's Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will visit Utah this week before submitting a review on national monuments in the state. She's expected to submit a report to President Joe Biden after she meets with tribes and elected leaders at Bears Ears National Monument on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

A string of U.S. officials has heard from those who advocate for broadening national monuments to protect the area's many archaeological and cultural sites, considered sacred to surrounding tribes, and those who fiercely oppose what they see as federal overreach.

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Blanding, Utah (AP) -- U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said sacred tribal lands he toured Monday in America's newest and most hotly contested monument should be preserved but he questioned whether the monument designation was the right way to do it. Zinke spent the day getting familiar with the 1.3-million acre (5,300 square kilometers) swath of southern Utah with red rock plateaus, cliffs and canyons on land considered sacred to tribes. His tour guide was Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, one of several prominent Republican leaders in the state who oppose Bears Ears National Monument.

I stepped to the edge of the lake to lend a hand as my companions came to a stop, their headlamps the only artificial light visible for miles. There were no cabins, cottages or resorts here. Not a single other person. Then, from across the lake, a long lone howl lifted into the air, followed by three more. But as is the case with almost all other national issues, our public land system has been dogged by controversy since it’s creation nearly 150 years ago stuck in a viciously contested game of tug of war . On one end of the rope are those hoping to see these lands opened for extractive use, on the other

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will be the latest cabinet official to visit Bears Ears National Monument — and the first Indigenous one.

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is scheduled to meet with tribes and elected officials at Bears Ears before submitting a review with recommendations on whether to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to downsize that site and Grand Staircase-Escalante, another Utah national monument.

FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, is the Butler Wash Indian ruins within Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will visit Utah this week before submitting a review on national monuments in the state. She's expected to submit a report to President Joe Biden after she meets with tribes and elected leaders at Bears Ears National Monument on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, is the Butler Wash Indian ruins within Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will visit Utah this week before submitting a review on national monuments in the state. She's expected to submit a report to President Joe Biden after she meets with tribes and elected leaders at Bears Ears National Monument on Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

The visit underscores her unique position as the first Native American to lead a department that has broad authority over tribal nations, as well as energy development and other uses for the country's sprawling federal lands.

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Some public lands are too important to lose to drilling rights, and those lands just so happen to be in Montana ― the home state of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Bears Ears in Utah is sacred to the Navajo Nation, yet that’s on the chopping block. The other site in Utah , Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, includes some of the most important dinosaur fossil sites in the world. Trump is expected to announce his decision concerning the national monuments in December.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday that the “emergence of an extreme movement to seize public lands ” is putting those lands “at risk of being sold off for a short-term gain to the highest bidder.” Ms. Jewell laid out what she called a need for a major “course correction” in the way national parks and other public lands are managed. Among other things, she said, nearly billion is needed to address maintenance backlogs in the parks and they suffer from too few visitors who aren’t older and white.

“She brings something that no other cabinet secretary has brought, which is that her Indigenous communities are coming with her in that room,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College.

Miller said the outcome of the negotiations will shed light on how the Biden administration plans to respond to other public lands disputes and will likely impact subsequent conversations with other states on natural resources.

Haaland faces competing interests: Tribes across the U.S. have hailed her confirmation as a chance to have their voices heard and their land and rights protected, while Republican leaders labeled her a “radical” who could, along with President Joe Biden, stunt oil and gas development and destroy thousands of jobs.

Pat Gonzales-Rogers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, said he looks forward to Haaland seeking tribes’ input, which he called a “far cry” from her predecessors in the Trump administration.

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U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claims that “no one loves public land more than I do,” but his actions prove that his words are empty, and

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He noted Haaland is familiar with the landscape — Bears Ears contains many sites of spiritual importance to New Mexico's pueblos — but acknowledged she has a responsibility to hear from all sides.

“She is the interior secretary for all of us, and that also requires her to engage other groups."

The coalition wants the monument restored to its original size, or even enlarged, but Gonzales-Rogers said he hopes Haaland's visit will at least be a step toward a more certainty.

“All parties would like to see some permanence, and they don’t want it to vacillate between either administrations or political ideology,” he said.

Prominent Utah Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney and new Gov. Spencer Cox, have expressed concern with the review under Biden's administration and demanded state leaders be involved. Haaland is expected to meet with them, along with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and U.S. Rep. Blake Moore during her visit.

Romney said the meeting will give Haaland a chance to receive valuable input from local officials and residents.

"I’m hopeful this visit will also highlight to the Secretary the importance of working with Congress toward a permanent legislative solution for the monuments’ boundaries and management that reflects the input of Utah’s state, local and tribal leaders, rather than unilateral action," he said.

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Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016. The site was the first to receive the designation at the specific request of tribes.

Its boundaries were downsized by 85% under the Trump administration, while Grand Staircase-Escalante was cut nearly in half. The reductions paved the way for potential coal mining, and oil and gas drilling on lands that were previously off-limits. Activity was limited because of market forces.

Environmental, tribal, paleontological and outdoor recreation organizations are suing to restore the monuments' original boundaries, arguing presidents don't have legal authority to change monuments their predecessors created. On the flip side, Republicans have argued Democratic presidents misused the Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate monuments beyond what's necessary to protect archaeological and cultural resources.

Haaland will be a key player in deciding what comes next.

She has said she will follow Biden's agenda, not her own, on oil and gas drilling, and told reporters at a briefing last week that her report to the president will reflect conversations with people who know and understand the area.

“That starts with listening,” she said, adding she has been to Bears Ears and knows “how special it is.”

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The Biden administration has said the decision to review the monuments is part of an expansive plan to tackle climate change and reverse the Trump administration’s “harmful policies.”

But Mike Noel, a former state representative and vocal critic of expanding the monuments, said it would be a mistake for the administration to “go back and rub salt in the wounds” by reversing Trump’s decision.

He said he fears that not allowing local and state officials to make these decisions will only further divide those involved.

“It’s never a good thing when decisions like this are made from Washington, D.C.,” Noel said. “I just think it’s being done wrong, and I hope that the new secretary recognizes that.”

Wilfred Herrera Jr., chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and a former governor of Laguna Pueblo, noted places like Bears Ears and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico connect tribal members to their ancestors. He said protecting them is the council's highest duty.

“Our current challenge — this threat to our cultural survival — is epitomized by these two examples and many other areas of equal importance,” he said.

___

Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this story.

Republicans Delay Senate Vote on Biden Interior Pick Over Oil .
Senate Republicans have taken steps to delay the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s Interior secretary nominee, citing Deb Haaland’s longstanding opposition to oil and gas development. Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming have put “holds” on the vote, forcing a Senate debate and a procedural vote. That’s a parliamentary step that will delay but is unlikely to prevent Haaland’s eventual confirmation to lead the Interior Department given her support among Democrats and a handful of Republicans.

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