SALT LAKE CITY — Bears Ears National Monument's boundaries likely will be reduced to between 100,000 and 300,000 acres, and Grand Staircase-Escalante could end up anywhere from 700,000 to 1.2 million acres, a top staffer in Sen. Orrin Hatch's office said.
Ron Dean, the central and eastern Utah director in Hatch's office, briefed the Utah Legislature's Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands in a Tuesday meeting on President Donald Trump's plans to reduce the size of the monuments.
Dean was quick to emphasize that his acreage numbers are "really grapevine," but also come with some certainty. If the boundary revisions fall outside those parameters, he said, "my rumors are bad rumors."
In the case of the 1.35-million acre Bears Ears, designated as a national monument last December by former President Barack Obama, the reduction would be significant. Grand Staircase, at nearly 1.9 million acres, would potentially be less impacted, but critics have said no reductions are acceptable.
The boundary revisions are poised to happen after Trump directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct a review of controversial monument designations to determine whether those previous presidential declarations fell within the scope of the 1906 Antiquities Act.
That law passed by Congress gives U.S. presidents the authority to designate or set aside land as monuments to protect objects of historic, cultural or scientific interest in the smallest area "compatible" with their care and management.
The abrupt 1996 designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante roiled Utah's political leaders, who 20 years later vigorously objected to the creation of the Bears Ears monument.
This fall, Zinke delivered to Trump his recommendations, which have not been officially released. A leaked copy of the report indicated four monuments — two in Utah — should have boundary revisions.
Last week, Hatch said he received a phone call from Trump indicating he would shrink both monuments. Trump's press secretary said the president will visit Utah in early December.
Dean, in response to questioning from Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said there have been multiple instances of monument boundaries reduced by U.S. presidents because of their belief the designations fell outside the scope of the law.
"I believe that will probably be the case (with that) language used in this executive order related to these monuments — that the scope of the two monuments in Utah were outside the intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906 as to their size," Dean said.
Briscoe said the pending action is troublesome to him because the first U.S. president to use the Antiquities Act, Theodore Roosevelt, designated multiple monuments, including protecting ancient relics at Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado and protecting hundreds of thousands of acres at the Grand Canyon.
But Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said the monument designations, their size and corresponding local consent have changed significantly over the years.
Ivory noted a report on a closed-door meeting over the Grand Staircase designation where backers took "great pains to not let anyone in Utah know that the monument designation was coming."
"There was a joke that they would drop it on Sen. (Bob) Bennett's birthday," he said, "and wouldn't that be a funny joke to do this big monument designation."
Bennett, a Utah senator at the time of the monument's designation on Sept. 18, 1996, was born Sept. 18, 1933.
Dean said it's clear that no matter what action Trump takes to alter the boundaries, groups will sue.
"I am sure they will litigate the monument reductions on every possible legal theory," he said. "I think that is what attorneys do best."