BLANDING, Utah — Utah political leaders believe a decision by President Biden on whether to restore the original boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments is "imminent."
"We've heard an announcement is coming," Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, told FOX 13 on Wednesday.
Members of the Utah State Legislature and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson hiked a part of Bears Ears National Monument on Wednesday after visiting the community of Westwater, which has no infrastructure and is seeking assistance for improvements.
"This has been a longstanding issue in the legislature," Lt. Gov. Henderson said of Bears Ears. "And a lot of them haven’t been down there before."
The monument was created by President Obama in 2016. The next year, President Trump shrunk the monument's boundaries from 1.3 million acres to 201,876 acres. Now, President Biden is considering whether to undo that or expand the boundaries even further.
"We’ve heard rumblings, but we haven’t heard anything official yet," Lt. Gov. Henderson told FOX 13. "I’m not sure when that will happen, but I think it’s imminent."
Navajo Nation Vice-President Myron Lizer said he believes the Biden administration will restore the original boundaries, which tribal groups have urged the U.S. government to do.
"Any time you add land mass to our Indian country? We think that’s a good thing," the vice president said Wednesday. "So if it keeps oil and gas exploration down to a minimum? That’s probably a good thing."
After President Trump shrunk the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, a coalition of tribal and environmental groups sued. Those lawsuits have been in limbo since Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Utah to tour the monuments, awaiting a decision by President Biden.
The U.S. Department of Interior had no comment on whether a decision was imminent when contacted by FOX 13 on Thursday, but Secretary Haaland has reportedly recommended the monument boundaries be restored to their original size.
"What I understand is it’s going to be back to the original boundaries that President Obama designated," said Rep. Lyman.
If that happens, the Cox administration has threatened a new lawsuit, challenging presidential use of the Antiquities Act, which is used to create national monuments. Governor Spencer Cox and members of Utah's congressional delegation have sought to meet with President Biden before any announcement is made.
"We were hoping for congress to help us figure this out instead of using the Antiquities Act," said Lt. Gov. Henderson. "I think there will have to be some legal action. We have to have a seat at the table. We care about these lands, but we absolutely need to have a say in how they’re managed."
Vice-President Lizer said restoring the monument boundaries would continue to protect historic Native American sites.
"You gotta protect places like this because it reminds us where we came from and it’ll always point us to the direction we want to go," he said.
Rep. Lyman, who appeared on stage with President Trump when he signed a proclamation shrinking the monument boundaries, said if they are restored he wanted the federal government to devote more resources to it. He recently teamed up with a Democratic counterpart to push for legislation to create a visitors center and resources for tourists visiting Bears Ears National Monument.
"If the federal government wants to come and take control of real estate in Utah, they should also take some responsibility for it," he said. "They never do that. They just want to tell us how to run it."