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Biden Pressured To Restore Boundaries Of 2 National Monuments In Utah

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The newly confirmed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is traveling to Utah. She'll meet with tribes and elected leaders. And the focus is on the future of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Former President Donald Trump dramatically slashed protections for these monuments. President Biden issued an executive order to review that move. And his administration is under pressure to restore their boundaries. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: A former congresswoman from New Mexico, Deb Haaland is the nation's first indigenous interior secretary. And in the Four Corners region, there's a lot of anticipation among tribes about her official visit to the Bears Ears national monument. When President Obama designated it, giving it enhanced federal land protections, he cited its cultural significance. The land is rich with cliff dwellings, pictographs, as well as sacred camping and burial grounds.

PAT GONZALES-ROGERS: This is our chapel. This is our place of worship.

SIEGLER: Pat Gonzales-Rogers runs the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing five sovereign tribes. Haaland alone doesn't have the authority to restore the monument's original boundaries. But he sees her visit as symbolic.

GONZALES-ROGERS: In fact, in the first kind of - well, I think it's less than 30 days of Secretary Haaland being in office, she has had more engagement, more action than the previous 1,300 days.

SIEGLER: When former President Trump downsized Bears Ears by 85% and cut the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante in nearly half, tribes sued. That court battle is on hold after President Biden's latest executive order calling for another review. Utah Republicans, including Governor Spencer Cox, are pressuring the administration to put a bill through Congress.

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SPENCER COX: Can we give on some issues? Can they give on some issues? Can we come to a peaceful resolution of this so we're not fighting this battle every year for 20 years, 25 years?

SIEGLER: In 1996, President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase monument without consulting Utah leaders. Some are still fuming about what they saw as a loss in ranching and mining opportunities.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD'S "HOVER II") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.