Interior secretary to visit Bears Ears National Monument ahead of potentially historic changes

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  • Trump signed an executive order reviewing presidential power to designate lands as national monuments

Washington (CNN)Ahead of a possibly historic decision by President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will travel to Bears Ears National Monument next week to meet with interest groups and tour the national monument at the heart of the President's effort to curb federal protection of land.

Local officials around Bears Ears told CNN on Friday that Zinke will visit the state over the weekend to meet with stakeholders in both Salt Lake City and around the remote national monument in southeast Utah.
Trump signed an executive order last month that reviews presidential power to designate lands as national monuments, setting into motion a process that could see Trump roll back the protection of lands designated by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act. Trump will be the first president to do so if he chooses to shrink a national monument.
At the heart of this process is Bears Ears, a 1.3-million-acre parcel of lands that includes world-class rock climbing, age-old cliff dwellings and land sacred to five Native American tribes that Obama designated a national monument in 2016.
The Interior Department confirmed Friday that Zinke will take a four-day listening tour to discuss Bears Ears as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both of which are under review as part of Trump's executive order.
Zinke's schedule includes meeting with leaders in Salt Lake on Sunday, according to Gavin Noyes, the executive director of Utah Dine Bikeyah, a nonprofit that works with Native American tribes around Bears Ears.
Zinke, Noyes said, will meet with the five tribes interested in protecting Bears Ears: Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, the Hopi Nation, Zuni Pueblo and Ute Indian Tribe.
The Interior Department did not immediately respond to CNN for comment.
The area known as the Bears Ears is seen on April 7, 2016 east of Blanding, Utah. President Obama declared it a national monument, a status Native American tribes sought.
Noyes said that Zinke invited them to Salt Late City for a Sunday meeting earlier this week and notified them that he would visit the national monument on Monday and Tuesday, too. The group of Native American leaders and groups interested in keeping Bears Ears a national monument will rally in Salt Lake City the day before the meeting.
Zinke's trip fulfills a pledge he made last month to visit the area and meet with stakeholders, but will likely mean the former Montana congressman will be confronted by vocal activists who hope to fight any changes to the national monument. The interior secretary told reporters in April that he would make recommendations on Bears Ears by the start of June -- 45 days after the executive order was signed.
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Noyes said he expects "hundreds, if not thousands of supporters" to show up around Bears Ears to meet with Zinke, a sizable number considering Blanding, population 3,668, is the biggest town near the monument.
Trump's decision to consider changes to national monuments comes after Western Republican lawmakers, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, complained that Obama overused the law to over-protect land.
Though Trump said he was in favor of federal control of public lands during the 2016 campaign, he has recently fallen more in line with Republican orthodoxy on the issue and said he wants to give more control to the states.
That timetable for a decision on the monument has energized opponents of the plan, a coalition that includes the Native American tribes, outdoor outfitters and environmental organizations.
The five tribes have pledged to personally sue Trump if he chooses to de-list Bears Ears, a land they have worked to protect for seven years because they view it as sacred.
And outdoor groups and environmentalists, like the outfitter Patagonia, have pledged to file suit on their own, too.
Patagonia, in an effort to spur interest and outrage, will also begin running full page ads knocking Trump in Utah and Montana this weekend.
The newspaper ads quotes Trump -- "I've heard a lot about Bears Ears, and I hear it's beautiful" -- before urging people to take action against the President.
"President Trump is attacking your public lands," it reads.
The ads are running in Utah, because of Bears Ears' location, and Montana, where Zinke calls home.