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U.S. interior chief begins monument tour

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with tribal leaders and elected officials in Utah on Sunday as he kicked off a four-day trip to the state to inspect two disputed national monuments protecting more than 3 million combined acres of the state's red rock country.

Zinke said at a news conference that he views the trip as a listening tour to ensure everyone has a voice and to determine if the monuments fit the federal law allowing presidents to declare the protections.

About 500 protesters carrying signs and chanting "Save our monuments, stand with Bears Ears!" demonstrated on the sidewalk outside the meetings in Salt Lake City.

The re-evaluation of the new Bears Ears National Monument on sacred tribal lands and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created in 1996, is part of an executive order signed last month by President Donald Trump calling for a review of 27 national monuments established by several former presidents.

The Bears Ears monument, a source of ire for Utah's conservative leadership, is a priority in the review.

Zinke has been tasked with making a recommendation on the monument by June 10, about 2à ½ months before a final report about all the monuments.

Zinke, who appeared with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on Sunday, said it's possible he may not recommend the monuments be made smaller or rescinded, and he might even recommend an addition to the monument. Past presidents have modified monuments, but no president has ever rescinded one, Zinke said.

Utah Republican leaders, led by Hatch, campaigned hard to get President Donald Trump to take a second look a monument designated by President Barack Obama near the end of his term.

Hatch and others contend the monument designation is a layer of unnecessary federal control that hurts local economies by closing the area to new energy development.

Protesters on Sunday urged Zinke to listen to tribal leaders who pushed for the monument and keep the protections for vast, wild spaces.

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