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More than 200 LDS Church leaders and members have signed a letter urging U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Congress to leave in place the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.
The "sign-on" letter, posted on Facebook by the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance and sent March 1, contained 223 signatures ranging from members nationwide of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who identified themselves as everything from ward counselors, teachers and choir leaders to church historians and professors.
"People just saw the letter on social media and found it resonated with them when it came to how they felt about preserving monuments and public lands," said MESA Chairwoman Ty Markham of Torrey.
Then-President Barack Obama's designation of the 1.3 million-acre monument in San Juan County has drawn opposition from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, state legislators and Utah's congressional delegation. They have asked President Donald Trump to rescind the monument declaration.
The LDS Church has not weighed in on the issue, but Markham believes the ideals of the monument are consistent with longstanding Mormon beliefs and scriptures.
The letter notes that in addition to centuries of Native American historical, cultural and religious connections to the Bears Ears region, the area also holds a special place in the heritage of Mormon pioneers who settled in Utah in the mid- to late 19th century.
Noting Latter-day Saints own history of religious persecution, which led to their flight to Utah, the letter states that members of the faith "seek to be partners in healing the legacy of religious persecution and displacement anywhere it has happened including among our Native American brothers and sisters."
"We understand that Native Americans hold their faith histories to be sacred, just as we do ours," the letter adds. "It is imperative that their ancestral lands continue to be protected as a national monument under the advice of the tribes of the Bears Ears region."