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State, local leaders react to potential changes to national monuments

A view of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from Spencer Flat on Sunday, July 9, 2017. (PHOTO: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Less than a week after taking office, President Joe Biden has opened the door to again reviewing the boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. While Utah’s top politicians have banded together in opposition, local leaders in southern Utah are left wondering when the cycle of change will end.

National monuments getting new boundaries? 

Bears Ears National Monument has only been designated as a U.S. national monument for a little over four years. In that short time span, it’s already undergone one major change in terms of redrawing the boundaries. That happened in late 2017 when former President Donald Trump broke it into two separate units and slashed the overall size by about 85%. 

It was a move that was applauded by many state leaders, including then-congressman Rob Bishop, who viewed the original designation as federal government overreach.

“Executive orders by their very definition are divisive issues,” he explains. “It’s going to be controversial just by the nature of it.”


Josh Ewing with Friends of Cedar Mesa points out that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has endured a similar history, having its size drastically reduced, nearly by half, in 2017. He says with another potential change on the horizon, this time an increase in size for both monuments, the impact on Utah is that it would, again, limit the opportunities for coal mining and oil and gas drilling on nearby land.

“But given current oil prices and uranium prices, it’s not like there have been drill rigs out there in the past few years,” he explains.

Whether for or against the monuments, Ewing argues these drastic swings every four years are good for no one.

Many people consider the areas to be sacred land, and for the people who currently work and recreate nearby, it’s not fair, in his opinion, to let partisan politics dictate their lives.

“This landscape is far too important to be used as a political tool that gets tossed back and forth every election,” says Ewing.

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