Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s arrival in Utah yesterday caps weeks of debate among Western lawmakers over the Trump administration’s directive to examine the use of the Antiquities Act over the past two decades to designate the national monuments Zinke will tour.

“I challenge any of my colleagues to come down and explain exactly how this 45-day review will uncover information that Western communities somehow missed,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) wrote in an April 27 post. He argued that the designations came from “exhaustive consultation” spanning “[h]undreds of meetings over thousands of hours.”

“I suspect they will find the widespread record of dissent and nearly unanimous local opposition to the recently designated 1.3 million acre Bears Ears National Monument,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) responded a day later. “It shouldn’t be too hard to find.”

The executive order signed by President Trump on April 26 directs Zinke to review large-scale national monument designations made since 1996 and determine whether they followed adequate public and stakeholder outreach. Zinke’s 45-day review of the monuments includes visits to Bear Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Critics of the use of the Antiquities Act to designate swaths of federal lands off limits to development have argued that many sites became monuments without sufficient consultation with local stakeholders.

“In this country we value consent, and this was done without our consent,” San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman (R) told the Deseret News today with regard to the Bears Ears designation.

The order “does what the past administration should have done,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said in April. “Talk to real people who live in the [affected] communities and not just special out-of-state interest groups.”

“These designations were often imposed in spite of local opposition, without consultation with Congress, or the state or local government’s [a]ffected, and without regard for the economic damage these designations have had on surrounding communities,”  House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said at a hearing last week.

Lee has criticized several national monument designations in his home state. “Members of the Blue Mountain Diné have started a petition to the White House to ask the president to not go through with this designation,” he wrote in August. “After spending the week meeting with Utahns across the state, I am convinced that local support for this proposed monument is practically non-existent.”

“Those who support the monument have relied on out-of-state support to create a narrative that there is any level of support for this monument designation,” Lee continued. “While we welcome all who want to come and experience our great state, the voices of those who have lived off this land for generations should be prioritized over those who come to visit for a weekend.”

In testimony prepared for last week’s House committee meeting, Kathleen Clarke, director of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, called the intent of the Antiquities Act “laudable” and noted its accomplishments over 110 years of use.

“But there should be limits upon the nature of the objects that may be protected, and the size of monuments should be limited to that which allows optimal protections for those objects,” Clarke wrote.


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