But on December 28, 2016, the announcement Utah's GOP leaders feared for months came from former President Barack Obama in the final days of his administration.
Rather than designating a vast monument, as Obama did, "it would have been more appropriate to identify and separate the areas that have significant objects to be protected to meet the purposes of the Act", Zinke's report said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is scheduled to visit Katahdin Woods and Waters on Wednesday as part of a review of more than two-dozen national monuments singled out by the Trump administration. Trump called the Bears Ears designation an "egregious abuse of federal power" and a "massive federal land grab". "I find that the Bear Ears National Monument does not fully conform with the policies set forth" in Trump's executive order.
Zinke declined to quantify the area of the proposed smaller monument but said that the new boundaries should be limited to "the smallest area compatible" with the management of those sites.
Zinke also asked Congress to create alternate designations such as national conservation or recreation areas within what is now Bears Ears National Monument, and to clarify wilderness management practices within national monuments.
Zinke additionally recommended that President Donald Trump request congressional authority to enable tribal co-management of designated cultural areas.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, drew the ire of Native American monument supporters in May when he said they "may not understand", what land use restrictions might accompany the designation.
Zinke's decision met immediate opposition from Ute Mountain Ute tribal member Regina Whiteskunk, who lobbied for the monument as co-chair of the Intertribal Coalition. "It's not up for trade", said Natalie Landreth, a lawyer for the Native American Rights Fund.
The department will also review the designations attached to five marine reserves including the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which is the largest such marine reserve in the world. Further, she argues that, while the law allows presidents to create national monuments, the executive branch has no authority to abolish or reduce one. The recommendation ignores thousands of public comments in favor of the monument and makes "a mockery of the claimed public process", Williams said. He did say the boundary would still include the actual Bears Ears geological formation and cultural sights that receive the most traffic. An attack on one national monument is an attack on all the national monuments under review. Zinke would not commit to a number of acres or even a percentage of what the Monument is now. Instead, Zinke said some of the sprawling, 1.3 million acre site should be designated for conservation or recreation, categories that are less restrictive than monuments.
Critics, however, said the monument campaign for Bears Ears didn't spring from local Native American desires, but grew out of a slick, deep pocketed effort funded by West Coast environmental organizations that want the land off-limits to multiple use such as off-roading, ranching and mining. President Trump had called for a review of that decision, and Zinke's recommendation is being watched closely as an indicator of how the Trump administration will treat public acres.
Associated Press writes Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.
Share with Us - We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article, and smart, constructive criticism.