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A House Bill Would Expand Bears Ears to 1.9 Million Acres

Representative Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) and Representative Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) reintroduced legislation on Wednesday to expand Bears Ears National Monument, which a 2017 presidential proclamation by Donald Trump reduced by roughly 85 percent.

The bill would not only restore the areas excised from the monument by Trump, but also add additional land included in the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition's original proposal, bringing the monument from its current size of 200,000 acres to 1.9 million. That acreage would include more than 100,000 Native American archaeological sites of cultural and scientific value. "It is encouraging to see Congress working towards safeguarding our most cherished landscapes instead of dismantling them," the Hopi tribe said in a statement.

The legislation would also "restore tribal consultation by requiring federal land managers to use tribal expertise to manage the monument's lands," according to a press release from Gallego's office.

The downsizing of Bears Ears sparked outrage among environmental and tribal groups, who immediately sued the Trump administration, arguing that the president lacks the authority to take such an action. That lawsuit, along with a similar one concerning Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, is currently making its way through the courts.

In addition to that of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, the House bill has the support of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Foundation, and Earthjustice, among other groups.

But not everyone is pleased. Representative John Curtis (R-Utah) not only opposes the legislation, but feels he was blindsided by its introduction, the Deseret News reports. The bill's unveiling followed a meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee in which Curtis pushed for a proposal that would require a full week's notice for any public-lands bill not co-sponsored by a House member representing the affected area. "Even though I represent this area," Curtis told the Deseret News, "I was never contacted by the sponsor or any of the exclusively Democrat co-sponsors."

The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee, which is now headed by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona). Grijalva has been clear in his view that Trump's shrinking of Utah monuments was illegal. "The bottom line is that national monuments enjoy overwhelming public support," Grijalva and Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) wrote in an op-ed for the Denver Post late last year, "and presidents have no power to revoke or shrink them with the flick of a pen."