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Utah's governor warns of possible lawsuit over Bears Ears boundaries

Haaland National Monument
Posted at 4:50 PM, Apr 15, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox warned a lawsuit is ultimately possible if compromise cannot be reached over the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

WATCH: 'I’m here to listen, I'm here to learn,' Interior Secretary says as she visits Bears Ears

Speaking to reporters at his monthly news conference on Thursday, Utah's governor repeatedly said that he was not pushing for one. But he warned that if they could not reach consensus over boundaries and the President's use of the Antiquities Act, it may ultimately wind up in court.

"Are we going to have the ability for presidents to lock up millions of acres or are we going to force them to actually follow the Antiquities Act and make them as small as possible to protect the actual antiquities?" he said.

Asked if he'd sue, the governor replied: "Yes."

When pressed if he would resort to that, Gov. Cox exclaimed: "No, no, heavens no!"

"I’ve said a million times...that’s the last thing. We’re tired of lawsuits, we’re tired of fighting, we’re tired of the back and forth," he added.

READ: Utah leaders thank Haaland for visit, urge solution for national monuments

Gov. Cox last week toured Bears Ears National Monument with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. She visited the area as part of a review by President Biden on whether to unwind President Trump's 2017 executive order shrinking the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

The governor has pushed for some kind of agreement between Native American tribes, local government officials and Utah's congressional delegation. But some tribal leaders have reiterated their belief that Bears Ears should be restored to its original boundaries, as designated by President Obama in 2016.

READ: Utah's delegation writes Biden to find permanent solution for national monuments

In a recent statement, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said he supported making Bears Ears even bigger than the 1.3 million President Obama created.
"When the Obama Administration designated the Bears Ears National Monument, it involved years of careful and thoughtful discussions and consultations with various tribes and other stakeholders. However, the actions of the Trump Administration to reduce the size of the national monument were politically-driven and completely sidestepped the years of work and support of tribes and other supporters. I wholeheartedly support the restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument and the expansion of it to 1.9 million acres," he said.

Gov. Cox said there has been no further communication with the Interior Secretary since she left Utah last week. He said he would like to see collaboration to end what he called "perpetual lawsuits."