SALT LAKE CITY — The Democratic leader of Utah’s capital city and a pair of Utah Republican congressmen were jockeying for the president’s ear on public lands Friday.
The jostling comes as U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke considers whether the president should shrink or rescind Utah’s national monuments. Both options are on the table, Zinke has said.
After touring the iconic Bears Ears buttes in Utah’s Four Corners region, Zinke has another month to make his recommendation to President Donald Trump, who ordered a nationwide review of the protected lands in April.
Utah’s senators, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, are cheering the order.
They were among 25 Republicans who sent a letter Friday praising the review. The group said a century-old law allowing presidents to declare monuments has permitted the executive branch to bypass the best interest of locals.
“The broad discretion the Antiquities Act grants presidents has led to its abuse,” the Republican U.S. senators wrote.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski sees it differently.
She wants Utah’s national monuments to stay put, saying they are “powerful economic drivers” for the city she sees as the gateway for thousands of tourists traveling south to Utah’s red rock wonders.
Biskupski urged Zinke in a letter Friday to keep Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments intact, her office announced.
“Any federal decision to modify acreage or roll back protection of these incredible spaces will have negative and far-reaching impacts on Salt Lake City, as well as our entire state,” the mayor wrote.
Her city is smarting after the Outdoor Industry Association pulled its twice-yearly Salt Lake City trade show in February, citing Utah lawmakers’ public lands policies.
“We cannot afford further damage to our reputation posed by altering the monuments,” Biskupski wrote.
Zinke saw Bears Ears’ vast mesas and ancient Puebloan rock art earlier this month on horseback and helicopter. San Juan County commissioners urged him to undo protections for 1.3-million acres of mesas dotted with sage and pinyon pines.
A coalition of five tribal groups urged President Barack Obama to designate the protections after a legislative compromise from Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, failed to muster enough support.
The Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition said after Zinke’s visit that he had not taken time to listen to their concerns.
The U.S. Interior Department is accepting comments about the monuments on its website.