Evans: Lease Bears Ears Back to Utah

Bears EarsWith all of the vows to fight the newly created Bears Ears Monument coming from Utah Republicans, GOP Chairman James Evans is floating a novel idea to the incoming Trump administration. Create the monument, then lease the land back to Utah so the state can manage it.

Evans says he thinks Trump has the authority to decide how the land is managed and could task Congress with turning the control back to the state.

“This would be the new president affirming what we’ve been saying, that Utah can better manage this land than the feds,” says Evans.

Utah Republicans are furious that Obama used the Antiquities Act to protect the 1.35 million acres contained in the new monument, which allows him to unilaterally set aside the land with a stroke of his pen. Evans says the fight over the Antiquities Act is for another day, and his idea could be a quick solution.

“This was clearly an overreach by President Obama,” he says. “This would be the simplest way to neutralize it and leave the larger question of the Antiquities Act to another day.”

Right now, most of the plans to stop Bears Ears are centering around whether Trump could unilaterally undo the monument designation, something that has never been done. Rep. Rob Bishop argues it can be done and has talked with the Trump transition team about undoing Bears Ears and possibly other monument designations.

A UtahPolicy.com survey found that most Utahns are split on whether they want Trump to cancel the monument, with 46% saying he should not reverse President Obama’s decision and 40% saying he should.

Evans says his idea is a way to thread the needle between the two sides because it would protect the land and allow for local control.

“Allowing the state to manage the land would be a much more effective way to handle this. Having the federal government in charge, we would just get more of what we’ve been getting, which is not working.”

Evans acknowledges this would be uncharted territory, and Trump would probably need Congress to change the change the law to make it happen. But, in his mind, it just makes sense to let Utah manage the new monument.

“Who is better equipped to work with the Native American tribes in that area? Clearly, it’s Utah and not the feds.”

But, this begs the question of how Utah would pay to manage the land if they were to gain control over it. Evans says it’s worth letting state lawmakers figure out how to do it in a revenue-neutral way.

“Utah is very creative. There are all kinds of different scenarios that we could come up with.”

Evans says he’s reached out to Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus to make the unique proposal.