Citing a tweet that Bryce Canyon National Park officials posted in late December, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is probing whether they had advance notice of then-President Barack Obama’s designation of a national monument in Utah that month.
In a Jan. 19 letter, Chaffetz wrote that a day after Obama designated 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument and 300,000 acres as a monument in Gold Butte, Nev., the Bryce Canyon National Park’s official Twitter account posted a message that suggested that the office had been awaiting the move.
“Welcome to the family Bears Ears (& Gold Butte) NM! A hopeful slot in our front desk maps have long been held for you,” the tweet read, with a photo of vacant mail slots with a spot labeled for Bears Ears.
Bryce Canyon, which is world-renowned for its striking red rock formations and rich archaeological history, was declared a national monument by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 and designated a national park by Congress five years later. It lies roughly 250 miles west of Bears Ears, in southwestern Utah.
Chaffetz, who represents the county where Bears Ears is located and opposed the unilateral designation of the monument, wrote to Bryce Canyon interim superintendent Sue Fritzke saying that “the message created the appearance that officials at Bryce Canyon coordinated with the White House prior to this most recent designation.”
He asked that the interim superintendent answer four questions, including details on any park employees who had been involved in discussions concerning the designation and “when was a Bears Ears map slot created in the Bryce Canyon National Park’s front desk national parks and monuments map area?”
In a Feb. 2 response, Fritzke wrote that a summer intern who had read media coverage of the prospect of Bears Ears becoming a national monument created the map slot in 2016. The intern’s supervisor approved the request, she wrote “knowing that if the Bears Ears National Monument was not created, the slot could be used by another regional recreation area.”
Fritzke also informed Chaffetz, “No employees of Bryce Canyon National Park were consulted with, or coordinated with, any entities regarding the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.”
An aide for Chaffetz contacted Tuesday said the office had no additional comment beyond the letter itself.
While many national monuments — including Bryce, Arches and other iconic Utah landscapes — are eventually embraced by local residents, Utah Republicans remain fiercely opposed to the Bears Ears designation. The state’s governor, legislature and congressional delegation have all asked President Trump to rescind the designation. Meanwhile, outdoor industry companies just pulled their major trade show from the state in protest of Republican Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s approach to public lands.
This is not the first time a national park’s social-media account has stirred controversy since the fall election. The National Park Service temporarily suspended tweeting after its main account retweeted two posts on Inauguration Day that were perceived as unflattering to Trump, and a former employee with access to the Badlands National Park’s Twitter account later posted a series of tweets highlighting the theme of climate change.