WASHINGTON U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will begin his review of national monument designations in Utah on Sunday where some Native Americans and conservationists fear he will recommend to allow drilling and other development at Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase, which encompass over 3 million acres.
The Interior Department said on Friday Zinke is visiting southern Utah as part of an executive order issued by President Donald Trump to reverse many of the environmental protections implemented by his predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama.
Obama designated the Bears Ears monument weeks before he left office under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Zinke will get input from communities around the sites and recommend to Trump whether the monument designation should be reduced or rescinded.
Zinke will look at 27 land and marine monuments during his 45-day review and has 120 days to make his final recommendations to Trump.
The Interior Department has not finalized Zinke’s schedule, but the secretary is expected to meet representatives of the Navajo Nation, as well as other members of the five-tribe coalition that led the effort to create the monument, in Salt Lake City on Sunday, said Jackson Brossy, Washington representative of the Navajo Nation.
The five tribes that form the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition – the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian tribe, Ute Mountain tribe and Zuni – will ask Zinke not to change the monument designation, Brossy said.
Zinke has already held meetings in Washington this week with opponents of the monument designation, including three commissioners of San Juan County in Utah who want the land open to oil and gas drilling, adventure tourism and other economic development.
One commissioner, Phil Lyman, had previously led an ATV ride through protected canyons to protest federal control of public land. Commissioner Rebecca Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, also opposes the monument designation.
Utah’s governor and congressional delegation are among the most vocal opponents of the monuments.
On Friday, the Interior Department launched a 60-day public comment period on the 27 monuments that will be reviewed.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)