SALT LAKE CITY — Tens of thousands of people from across the U.S. have weighed in about whether the new Bears Ears National Monument should be preserved, downsized or rescinded, confirming the monument’s center stage position in a review of 27 monuments ordered by President Donald Trump.
About 57,000 submissions with comments mentioning the 1.3-million acre monument in southeastern Utah had been submitted to a federal government website by Friday evening on the final day of a two-week public comment period that is part of U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s review of the monument designated by President Barack Obama.
That accounts for more than half of the 113,000 comments submitted so far about all the monuments under review, which includes monuments created by three former presidents on large swaths of land home to ancient cliff dwellings, towering Sequoias, deep, canyons and oceans habitats where seals, whales and sea turtles roam.
Some Bears Ears comment submissions include conservation groups that compiled thousands of individual comments and made one submission, meaning the actual number of people offering their opinion could be much higher.
Zinke has been tasked with making a recommendation by June 10, about 2½ months before a final report about all the monuments.
The submissions in the comments generally reflect the same arguments that shaped a bitter argument that played out over the last several years as the monument proposal became a flashpoint in the Western public lands debate.
Conservationists and Native American tribes have said the monument designation adds much-needed protections for sacred tribal lands. Monument critics including U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Utah’s GOP congressional delegation counter label the designation as federal overreach that hurts local economies by limiting energy development.
Natalie Deswood, a Navajo Nation member from Albuquerque, New Mexico, sent a letter urging maintaining monument status for an area she called “a national treasure that belongs to all Americans and honors tribes.” The home health care worker added in an interview that her father and one of her sons are buried near Bears Ears and the land is sacred to her family.
“It’s all we have left. We’ve already lost so much,” Deswood said. “It’s just a bunch of ‘BS’ for them to be wanting take away these national monument that have been here for years and years.”
Shayne Thompson, an avid hunter from central Utah, urged Zinke in his comment to rescind Bears Ears’ monument designation to protect wildlife and hunting.
Even though the monument designation still allows hunting, Thompson noted that several of Utah’s national parks, including Zion and Arches, were first declared monuments and that hunting is prohibited in national parks.
“We feel as local people we get this stuff crammed down our throat without getting any input,” said Thompson in an interview. “It’s our backyard and we have to deal with the repercussions.”