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BEARS EARS, Utah — President Trump flew to Utah on Monday to sign proclamations that shave nearly two million acres from national monuments in the state. That could open the land to mining and grazing. 

The view is breathtaking. A land of cultural richness — beauty and solitude, and for Mary Benalli, Bears Ears is home.

“This place is so sacred to the Native Americans. People need to be here to see it and feel the healing,” Benalli said.

Benalli is a descendant of the Navajo and Hopi, which were among the tribes that convinced former President Barack Obama to set aside 1.3 million acres to create Bears Ears National Monument.  

“I looked around and I said, ‘Wow, little ol’ us, we did this!’ Somebody actually listened to us in Washington, and did what we asked,  and now this!”   

“This” is the move by the Trump administration to drastically shrink the amount of land protected at Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to just over 200,000 and the equally-stunning Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument in southern Utah by half.

But there are those who prize what lies underneath the land: oil, gas and uranium, which is why the quiet land is now surrounded by so much noise.

Bruce Adams, who chairs the San Juan County Commission, said the federal government — which currently owns two-thirds of the land in Utah — has overreached, and said residents should have more control.

“So to you, President Trump and Secretary Ryan Zinke are?” CBS News asked.

“Two of the greatest people I’ve ever been able to associate myself with,” Adams said.

“What about the Native Americans who say this is their land and there is sacred ground?” CBS News said.

“I applaud the fact that they want that protection. I just simply think that that protection exists already,” Adams said.  

“I cherish the land,” said Navajo elder Willie Grayeyes. He said stripping away protection would leave a deep scar. “Not only within myself, but my nation, and probably all of the Native Americans.”

Former President Bill Clinton declared Grand Staircase-Escalante a monument more than 20 years ago. Just like Bears Ears, it took years to get that status. Now, Native tribes and environmental groups say it could be years of a legal fight before it’s resolved.


Bears Ears National Monument

CBS News

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