Newly sworn-in, Rep. John Curtis seems to be blending in seamlessly with Team Utah Congressional Delegation. Out of the gate, he attached his name to a House Bill 4532, which critics say is an attempt to codify President Donald Trump’s proclamation signed in Utah last month that reduced Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by around 2 million acres.
Almost immediately after Trump downsized the national monuments, groups filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the government’s authority to do so.
But Curtis’ bill, if passed, could make the civil suit moot. At a rally in the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, conservationists and Native American representatives decried the bill and reiterated their support for Bears Ears National Monument.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Scott Groene described the bill as a roundabout attempt to enshrine a legally indefensible executive order.
“HR 4532 is, in essence, a recognition that Trump’s decision won’t stand up in court,” he said.
Groene said that Bears Ears National Monument would have allowed the government to draft a management plan aimed at preserving the unique natural and cultural resources in the region that have been subject to degradation and vandalism.
“These areas are faced with exploding visitation, and there’s a great need for a new plan to address recreation, and especially terrain and off-road vehicle use,” he said.
Groene also worried that the bill would hand greater management control to local county commissioners, who have a garnered reputations for being against federal public land management. “HR 4532 is a despicable act, rolling back protection for the Bears Ears and a disrespect to the tribes,” he said.
On social media, Curtis championed HB 4532 for empowering Native American tribes with co-management responsibilities—which was also a condition of the original national monument designation that Trump scrapped.
Virgil Johnson, chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, however, said the coalition of tribes is opposed to the reduction of Bears Ears and Curtis’ proposed law.
“There was no consultation with the Indian Tribes,” he said. “As in the past, the United States government desires to come into Indian Country and tell the American Indians what is in their best interest.”
Before Curtis was elected to Congress, members of Utah Diné Bikéyah took the candidate into the newly formed Bears Ears National Monument, according to Executive Director Gavin Noyes, and talked about tribal sovereignty and federal trust responsibilities.
“He told us at the time, if he were to become the congressman that he would consult with tribes before doing anything,” Noyes said. “He’s never reached out to the tribes.”
Utah Sierra Club Director Ashley Soltysiak panned the bill for doubling down on Trump’s actions and providing little information by way of maps for the public to review.
“I’ll be frank, the bill drafted by Representative Curtis is nothing short of an affront to tribal sovereignty, a majority of Utahns and all of Americans,” she said.
Tuesday morning, San Juan County Commission sent out a statement in support of HB 4532.
“You are listening to a group that has been silenced for too long and finally allowing us a seat at that table,” Commissioner Rebecca Benally said in the release. “We all come from different backgrounds, but we want the same result. We want land that is well managed, protected and accessible to all people.”
Tribal representatives counter that their voices are the ones that have been silenced for too long.
Jonah Yellowman is a Utah Dine Bikeyah board member, who said Native Americans in Monument Valley consider the ground sacred and continue to use its resources.
“That’s why that monument was established,” he said. “To protect that.”