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Battle Over Bears Ears National Monument Boundaries; Stakeholders Share Concerns

BLANDING, Utah – Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrapped up her visit to Bears Ears National Monument Friday. She spoke with people on both sides of the boundary sizing issue, and will now share what she saw and learned with President Biden.

Haaland met with state and local leaders as well as tribal leaders during her visit.

Time hasn’t really changed the Bears Ears area. It’s been about the same for thousands of years. Humans, though, have changed the boundaries of Bears Ears twice in just five years. 

It may change again. 

President Joe Biden ordered a review of some national monument boundaries, such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, after President Donald Trump decreased the size of them. 

“It’s important the President get this right,” said Haaland. “My mission is really very simple. I’m here to listen. I’m here to learn.” 

It’s safe to say people in this part of Utah – on both sides of the Bears Ears Monument issue – don’t trust the federal government all that much, especially with talk of changing the boundaries again. 

“It feels not very respectful of the community down here,” said Tyson Kirk. 

Kirk lives in Blanding and made signs to put on some cars, saying “No Monument” during Secretary Haaland’s visit.

Like many people here, Kirk felt the best way to protect Bears Ears was to delist it as a National Monument. 

“People who live in this community care more about this land than anybody else. In all the big cities, they don’t care as much as we do,” he said. “Increased traffic has never been a way to preserve anything.” 

However, many people told KSL they feel just the opposite. 

They said monument status, and a return to its original declaration of 1.3 million acres, or more, would protect the land better, especially for the five Native American tribes who called it a spiritual place. 

“We were here first,” said Clark Tenakhongva, who is the vice chairman for the Hopi Tribe. “We still have cultural ties to this. We still have our ceremonial ties to this area. It’s much like the church, the Mormon temple up in Salt Lake City.” 

Both sides said the land needs to be protected, but the difference on how to do it, though, is about as far apart as Bears Ears itself. 

“We all want pretty much the same thing, right? We want to protect the land,” said Haaland. “We want to make sure it’s there for generations to come.” 

Haaland said she and her office will continue to talk with local, state, and tribal leaders, as well as local residents, ranchers, small business owners, and outdoor recreation groups. 

Everything she gathered will be presented to President Biden for him to decide. 

“I’m hoping she can have a frank discussion with President Biden on what tribes are wanting for that area,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

KSL 5 TV Live

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