Newly confirmed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will soon make a trip to Utah for a tour of Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante, as the Biden administration reviews former President Donald Trump’s decision to drastically downsize the two national monuments.
Utah’s congressional delegation and state leaders on Wednesday welcomed the news of Haaland’s upcoming visit, which they said would give her the chance to speak with local elected officials and residents in the communities surrounding the monuments. And they expressed hope that after touring the area, Haaland would agree with them that it will take legislation rather than executive action to settle years of debate over the monument boundaries.
“Her trip to Utah will allow her the opportunity to speak with the people who live and work on the lands, whose voices may otherwise go unheard, before making any recommendations to the President,” the joint statement read. “We are also confident that this trip will successfully highlight the need for a permanent legislative solution for determining appropriate boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, with statutory protections to prevent abuses under the Antiquities Act for the State of Utah.”
Within hours of his inauguration in January, President Joe Biden called for a 60-day review of the two formerly large Utah national monuments that Trump reduced by 2 million acres as a political favor to the state’s Republican politicians. Earlier this month, Utah’s two senators and four congressmen asked Biden to extend this review period so the incoming interior secretary could visit the area before the administration made any decisions about the monument boundaries.
In Wednesday’s statement, the congressional delegation, Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, legislative leaders and Attorney General Sean Reyes said they were “encouraged” that the Biden administration had agreed to push back the deadline.
By announcing her trip, Haaland is following through on her pledge to visit Utah before making recommendations on the fate of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, whose designations and subsequent reductions have been debated for a quarter century.
“I would never pass up an opportunity to go to Utah,” the Democratic New Mexico congresswoman told Utah Sen. Mike Lee during the hearing.
The U.S. Senate this week confirmed Haaland as Interior secretary, although Utah’s two senators objected to the appointment, with U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney citing her “support for radical policies like the Green New Deal.” She is the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet and is an enrolled member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo.
This story will be updated.