On Monday, Dec. 3, two Morgan County residents were invited to hear President of the United States of America Donald Trump speak at the Utah State Capitol building before signing an executive order to scale back the national monuments at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Utah House Representative Logan Wilde and Morgan County Republican Party Chair and national delegate Kera Birkeland, both Morgan County residents, received personal invitations from the White House for this historic event.
Rep. Wilde was honored to be asked to attend, saying, “I had a once in-a-lifetime experience, the chance to support and hear from our president. This opportunity doesn’t come around very often in Utah, especially when action is taken in the State of Utah that affects us so drastically.”
He continued stating that he was moved by how the Trump administration is listening to local leaders like Rebecca Benally. “To take time on the ground, and to listen to the local Navajo tribe and those who live and work the ground to preserve it for the next generation, needs to be applauded.”
Birkeland illustrated her experience saying, “It was pretty amazing to be a few feet from the president and I was very impressed that he knew all of our federal delegation, by name. I believe our federal representatives have done a very good job at making Utah a priority to our current presidential administration. I’m so glad he spent time at the welfare square of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe President Trump is truly trying to represent our nation well.”
President Trump said of his visit, “After the visit [to Welfare Square], I can say first-hand that Utah’s awesome natural beauty is exceeded only by the warmth, grace and hospitality of its citizens. This state has many national treasures, but its greatest treasure by far is its people and we will ensure the rights of the people to live the faith in their hearts, which is why we will always protect your religious liberty.”
Utah’s Senator Orrin Hatch set up the tour through Welfare Square which is “a modern facility composed of a towering, 178-foot-tall grain elevator, a large storehouse, a bakery, a cannery, a milk-processing operation, a thrift store, and an employment center—all designed to help people help themselves,” according to a press release from his office.
The release stated that Hatch was “the first member of the Utah delegation to approach the president about reducing the size of these two national monuments, which taken together, cover a geographic area more than twice the size of Delaware. After issuing the executive order, the president handed Hatch the signing pen in recognition of the Senator’s leadership on public lands.”
President Trump credited Hatch for his decision to make a new monument proclamation and called him a “true fighter.” Trump elaborated saying, “You meet fighters and people you thought were fighters, but they’re not so good at fighting…he’s a fighter.”
Senator Hatch said he appreciated the president’s willingness to listen to his advice and even more importantly, to give the people of Utah a voice in this process. “I believe his proclamation, following Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s fair, thorough and inclusive review, will represent a balanced solution and a win for everyone on all sides of this issue.”
The president then invited Senator Mike Lee, who represents Morgan County, to the stage and said, “Do you want to say something?” Senator Lee responded teasing that, “It’s not every day the president of the United States asks you to take the microphone from him,” and then proceeded to thank President Trump for standing with Utah.
Senator Lee issued the following statement Monday. “President Trump did the people of Utah a great favor today by rolling back harmful land use restrictions in Southern Utah,” Sen. Lee said. “The president has done his part and now it is time for Congress to act to protect the people of Utah from federal overreach in the future. That is why I will be introducing legislation later this week that would give Utah similar protections from Antiquities Act abuse that the states of Wyoming and Alaska currently enjoy.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes chimed in as well noting that, “Today, with the designation of five new monument units, President Trump has taken a historic step to correct the hubris of past administrations. The new designations are much closer in scope to the ‘smallest areas compatible with proper care and management’ of protected objects, as required by the Antiquities Act. These corrections were made after extensive input from local citizens and interests, including tribal members, conservationists, ranchers, hunters, business owners and elected representatives. President Trump and Secretary Zinke have found a balance that considers the needs of our local communities and still protects the singular, stunning and sacred lands of our state for future generations.”
Reyes continued saying that to him “it is no surprise, given the disproportionate original designations, that President Trump would reduce these monuments to be more consistent with the intent of the Antiquities Act. Such remedial measures would not be necessary if Congress would clarify the limits of initial monument designations. I echo the statement of Secretary Zinke that executive power under the Act is no substitute for congressional action. We are hopeful that our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. will pass legislation that makes political games with Utah’s public lands less likely in the future.”
According to a release from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), before traveling to Utah, Zinke met with tribal representatives in his office.
“On his first day in Utah in May, the secretary met with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in Salt Lake City, for just under two hours. Throughout the four-day survey of the Utah monuments, the secretary also met with local tribal representatives who represent different sides of the debate. The secretary also met with tribal representatives for their input on several other monuments from Maine to New Mexico to Oregon and everywhere in between. Additionally, the Department hosted several tribal listening sessions at the Department and across the country, including a four-hour session with the Acting Deputy Secretary on May 30,” the release stated.
President Trump articulated in his speech that “past administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.” He expounded on that statement saying that the original Bears Ears designation that included more than half a billion acres of land and water was a “tragic federal overreach preventing many native Americans from having their rightful voice over sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions.”
The BLM release asserted that while this reduction of size was certainly historic, it was not unprecedented. “Monuments have been reduced at least 18 times under presidents on both sides of the aisle. Some examples include President John F. Kennedy excluding Bandelier National Monument, Presidents Taft, Wilson and Coolidge reducing Mount Olympus National Monument, and President Eisenhower reducing the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado.”
And although President Trump promised, “Public lands, will once again be for public use,” the release also stated regarding federally owned land that “if any monument is reduced, the land would remain federally owned and would be managed by the appropriate federal land management agency, such as the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the National Park Service (NPS).”
President Trump ended his words wishing Utah a “Merry Christmas.”