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Take long look at landmarks

Wash in the Cedar Mesa area.
Wash in the Cedar Mesa area.
Deseret News archives

When President Bill Clinton stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and set aside Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument, he left a sour taste in the mouths of Utah's leaders that lingers today.

Every leader in Utah got blind-sided — even Bill Orton, a congressman who was a member of Clinton's own political party.

And so, with reason, when leaked documents showed the Obama administration was considering a similar stealthy move with the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa, all the distrust and distaste came bubbling back.

This time the state was ready, however. With legislators and Gov. Gary Herbert working 'round the clock to short-circuit any grand "declaration," the administration has agreed to make sure the process is as important as the project. Utahns will have their say.

One reason, of course, was self-interest. The administration didn't want to get dragged into a fight over the Antiquities Act. Any high-handed move by the administration could prompt Congress to counterpunch by rewriting the act. President Theodore Roosevelt — who is on Mount Rushmore with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln because he protected places like Mount Rushmore — supported the Antiquities Act as a way to give the president power to decree natural wonders off limits. But through the years, the intent has been twisted and tweaked beyond its original scope. Revisiting it may be a good idea anyway, whether President Barack Obama sets more Utah land aside or not.

But that debate is for another day.

Today, the issue is the status of two of Utah's natural landmarks.

A good case can be made for the San Rafael Swell being protected. As one nature photographer has said, "The best option is for people to behave responsibly so government intervention isn't needed."

Barring that, perhaps "off limits" signs might be in order. And that's what the upcoming discussion should decide.

If cooler heads prevail, the decision about San Rafael and Cedar Mesa will be understood and accepted.

Whatever the outcome, for now, that old sour taste left from the "Clinton coup" has already begun to sweeten a little.