SALT LAKE CITY — One recurring theme echoed from the pulpit in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol on Monday, Utahns voices are being heard over the designation of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments.
As protesters gathered outside, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally and others praised the shrinking of the boundaries for the monuments, by proclamation of President Donald Trump.
Benally said as a Native American, it was insulting to her that the original designations were made by people who lived thousands of miles away. “People who have never been to San Juan County and likely couldn’t find us on the map,” Benally said. “People who don’t understand our culture, traditions and histories, people who don’t care about us,” she said.
The monument designations have divided Native Americans, but Benally fully supported the change in boundaries.
President Trump, before a supportive crowd in the flag-decked rotunda, drew applause and standing ovations from the crowd, made up of Congressional delegates, county and state leaders and Republican party leaders from around Utah. “We will not only give back your voice over the use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment,” President Trump said. “Public lands will once again be for public use.”
The designation will reduce the size of Bears Ears from 1.3 million acres to 201,876 acres, according to the Department of the Interior. In a fact sheet, the department said significant archaeological, historical and scientific areas would still be preserved.
For Grand Staircase Escalante, the monument’s footprint would be reduced from 1.9 million acres, to just over 1 million. The President said he signed the proclamations on the recommendations of Secretary Zinke and Utah’s congressional delegation. “Finally you’d be giving people back their access to the land they know, to the land they understand,” said President Trump.
Bears Ears was designated last year by President Barack Obama. The original designation for Grand Staircase Escalante was declared by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
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