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Tribal Leaders Urge Bears Ears Restoration During Haaland Utah Visit

AP photo/Rick Bowmer/Press Pool

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland toured two national monuments last week in southern Utah. The Biden-Harris administration is considering restoring their previous boundaries after they were drastically shrunk under the Trump administration. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Last Thursday, Haaland hiked to a spring in Bears Ears National Monument with members of Utah’s congressional delegation and representatives of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. They took part in a ritual smoking and placed offerings at the site.

Five tribes with spiritual and cultural connections to the area are urging Haaland to recommend the immediate restoration Bears Ears after it was cut by 85% in 2017. Coalition Co-Chair and Hopi Vice Chairman Clark Tenakhongva says ancient dwellings, rock art and sacred areas have been damaged.

"It has to be maintained to prevent the continual erosion of the place itself. Less foot traffic, less vehicle traffic, the protection of the plants, the protection of the sites, the protection of the springs," Tenakhongva says. 

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney also met with Haaland. He wants any changes to the monument to come through legislation rather than executive order. Many Utah leaders pushed the Trump administration to shrink the monument, hoping to spur oil and gas production in the area.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, will eventually submit a report on Bears Ears and the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to President Joe Biden. He could restore, or even expand, the areas under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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