Trump shrinks Obama’s legacy further: ‘Bears Ears’ tribal site on national monument chopping block

Sen. Orrin Hatch is “extremely grateful” to President Trump for a move that effectively undid another part of the Obama legacy.

“I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin,” Trump told the Utah senator in a phone call Friday morning, according to Hatch’s office, The Washington Post reported.

The president was planning to accept Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to shrink the size of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument following a review of the Antiquities Act.  Bears Ears in southeast Utah is a 1.3-million-acre protected area which was designated a national monument by former President Obama in December 2016.

“I was incredibly grateful the President called this morning to let us know that he is approving Secretary Zinke’s recommendation on Bears Ears,” Hatch said. “We believe in the importance of protecting these sacred antiquities, but Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration rolled up their sleeves to dig in, talk to locals, talk to local tribes, and find a better way to do it. We’ll continue to work closely with them moving forward to ensure Utahns have a voice.”

The monument, prized by many tribal leaders with its thousands of cultural artifacts and land sacred to Pueblo Indians, was deemed in danger from looting and recreational activities when Obama used the Antiques Act of 1906 to declare its new status.

(Image: whitehouse.gov)

Zinke made recommendations to shrink the Bears Ears’ boundaries in August, asking for less-restrictive designations within the area, “such as national recreation areas or national conservation areas,” according to the Post.

“We’re tickled to death,” San Juan County Commission Chairman Bruce Adams said in an interview Friday. “You have a president of the United States who’s interested in a county in Utah with 15,000 residents.”

The commissioners of San Juan County, where the monument is located, supported Trump’s decison as they have been opposed to Obama;s designation from the start. Adams believes Trump will be reducing Bears Ears “to two or three small areas that protects specific objects.”

Native American tribal groups, on the other hand, are completely on the opposite side of the debate.

“I have to say we’re not surprised. We generally expected the president to make the wrong decision,” attorney Natalie Landreth said, the Post reported.

Representing the Zuni, Hopi and Ute Mountain Utes, three of the five Native American nations that petitioned to designate the monument, Landreth said they are “ready to go” with a lawsuit as soon as Trump formally makes an announcement.

“We’re confident he doesn’t have the authority to do this. He can expect to be tied up in court for the next several years and ultimately fail,” she said.

Trump launched the review earlier this year of more than two dozen national monuments that were designated by his predecessors, former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.The proposed cutting back would shrink Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, which was designated by Clinton, as well as Nevada’s Gold Butte, according to the Post.

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Frieda Powers

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