The latest battle over Utah’s shrunken national monuments has been playing out this week in rural communities.
The Bureau of Land Management planned four open houses on the two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. President Donald Trump reduced them by more than half in December, and now the agency is preparing new management plans.
Abbie Jossie, deputy for resources in the BLM’s Utah state office, said those new plans should be in place within a year.
“These meetings are scheduled to be in the communities that are closest to the monuments, and that was our prime objective here,” she said at Wednesday's open house at Kanab Middle School.
This week's meetings amounted to BLM's hat-tip to rural Utahns because all of the open houses took place in small towns: Blanding, Bluff, Kanab and Escalante. Rancher Shane Stotlar guessed as much. He said he likes how BLM is welcoming locals to weigh in on grazing, mining and other activities that were restricted on the original Grand Staircase-Escalante.
“The federal government’s the one that made the monument in the first place," he said. "So now they’re trying to make it right a little bit with the locals.”
Others had a different take — at least at Wednesday's open house.
Victor Cooper, who operates a Kanab restaurant, said he’s worried that opposing views like his will be snubbed. He said that’s what happened last year. Millions of people who sent in comments told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke they wanted the monuments to remain intact, but he shrunk them anyway.
“We’re hearing one thing, but the actions say something else," Cooper said. "And I think there’s a direct effort to cut people out of the process.”
Some critics said that includes the American public, owners of the land and resources within the monuments. Russell Beesley talked about his local pioneer roots, but he said he felt excluded.He added that BLM should be doing more to include people like him who want to restore the Grand Staircase.
“They should ask the people in Salt Lake, they should ask the people in D.C.," he said. "These are public lands that belong to all Americans and all Americans should have input into it.”
The BLM has one more open house today in Escalante, but Jossie said no other public forums are planned at this point.
Additional public comments will be accepted for two more weeks.