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Washington • Tribal leaders who pushed for the Bears Ears National Monument said Wednesday they hope the Trump administration will leave the protection in place but, if not, they will go to court to ensure the monument remains.
"If it does really come to a fight, and some of us don't want to say it, but it will become a legal fight," said Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee. "We don't get to shoot arrows at each other anymore, right? They don't get to shoot bullets at me. But the way we're going to fight is we're going to go to court."
The tribes may not be the only ones.
As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke begins his 45-day review of the monument's designation and a larger look at all monuments named since 1996 several groups are readying for a legal battle should Zinke recommend, and President Donald Trump take action, to jettison the national monument status of the Bears Ears region or trim other monuments.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and "a coalition of conservation groups have been clear that we will litigate any illegal effort by President Trump to rescind or diminish either the Bears Ears and/or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument," said Steve Bloch, SUWA's legal director. "Both of these national monuments protect world-class cultural, paleontological, and geologic resources. In the case of the Bears Ears, its cultural resources are at risk from looting and vandalism facilitated by off-road vehicle use. And in the case of the Grand Staircase, its host of resources are at risk from coal mining and other shortsighted schemes."
Still Waiting • Several Native American leaders said they have yet to hear back on their requests to meet with administration officials and are concerned that the federal government will once again go back on its promise to the country's native peoples.
"I don't think you could say it's a slap in the face" if Trump rescinds the Bears Ears monument designation, Chapoose said. "What it is, it's a repeat of history. It's not like this is the first rodeo. There have been so many broken promises. But tribes are still always hopeful."
In fact, Zinke met with Chapoose and other Ute Indian Tribe leaders Wednesday.
"The tribal leaders and the secretary discussed several issues including energy development, the nature of sovereignty, public lands, and the Bears Ears National Monument," said a statement from the Interior Department. "The meeting was the first of many conversations. The secretary and the tribal leaders committed to maintaining an ongoing open and positive dialogue."
That visit occurred following a morning news conference by members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition representing the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes at which they urged Trump and Zinke to listen to their voices, with tribal leaders noting that they felt ignored. Zinke has already met with members of Utah's federal delegation and, Tuesday, held a private session with the San Juan County Commission, which opposes the monument.
"We ask that we be heard," said Davis Filfred, a Navajo Nation Council delegate. "We want to be listened to."
The Interior Department pushed back on the criticism by the tribal leaders.
"The claims that the secretary is not consulting tribes regarding Bears Ears is false," spokeswoman Heather Swift said. "Consultation is a priority of the secretary, and as was noted during the announcement of the monuments review, he recognized that tribes are an important voice in this review process."
Before Tuesday's news conference, Swift added, the department had been in touch with the Bears Ears Tribal Commission, which was formed as part of the Bears Ears designation and includes representatives of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian of the Uintah Ouray and Zuni tribes.
"The informal invitations have already been sent and we are in the process of sending formal invitations," Swift said. "Local communities will finally have a voice in the monument process and the secretary looks forward to meeting with them and other important stakeholders next week."
Utah visit • Zinke is expected to fly into Utah on Sunday and spend time in Salt Lake City, visit Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and meet with local, state and congressional officials.
Utah's statewide elected leaders and its six members of Congress all Republicans had lockstep opposed President Barack Obama naming a Bears Ears National Monument and are pushing for Trump to toss out the designation. No president in the history of the 111-year-old Antiquities Act has rescinded a monument declared by his predecessor, and there has never been a court test of whether a president has that power.
Beyond the five tribal nations that support the Bears Ears monument, some 30 other tribes across the nation signed a letter of support.
But Darren Parry, vice chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, argued in the San Juan Record this week that the Bears Ears designation is not in the best interests of the Shoshone people or Utahns.
"I am currently working with other tribal leaders to help educate them to the real issues that are involved," Parry wrote. "This is not a good deal for tribes. They need to understand this. The great American lie is that all tribes are for the Bears Ears National Monument. They are not!"
Trump ordered the review of all national monument designations back to Jan. 1, 1996 specifically chosen to include Grand Staircase and Zinke has until June 10 to report back recommendations on Bears Ears and four months to suggest possible changes to other monuments.
Obama named the Bears Ears region, which was already federal land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, a monument in late December.