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Utah lawmakers pass resolution against proposed Bears Ears national monument

SHARE Utah lawmakers pass resolution against proposed Bears Ears national monument

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature told the Obama administration Wednesday in a strongly worded resolution that the state doesn't want a new national monument and is gearing up to fight any attempt to create one.

State lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the resolution in a special legislative session opposing the designation of a proposed Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

The 184-line resolution challenges the president's authority to create a monument under the Antiquities Act and calls on the Utah attorney general to pursue all legal options available to the state regarding "improper" unilateral national monument designations.

The document typifies the ongoing issue Utah's Republican-controlled Legislature has with what it considers federal overreach and comes as Obama considers designating the 1.9 million-acre monument in San Juan County before he leaves office next January.

Gov. Gary Herbert called the special session to deal with education funding issues and added the resolution to the agenda. His spokesman, Jon Cox, said the governor appreciates the support of Utahns and the Legislature.

"The message sent today to the White House is clear: Utahns do not want a new national monument," Cox said.

House members passed the resolution first, 64-10, after spending more than an hour debating changes to the bill, including a failed attempt to label the president's authority to designate a national monument under the Antiquities Act as "alleged."

"This is a huge, major and signficant impact on our state. We desire to protect, to preserve, to maintain health and access and productivity to our lands," the sponsor of HCR201, Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said in urging support for the resolution.

The Senate passed the resolution 22-5 along party lines after a much shorter debate than the House.

"This is a nasty thing to do, to stick it in the president's face like that," Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said afterward.

Dabakis suggested the resolution could backfire on Republican lawmakers. He urged the Senate to vote it down and open a dialog with the White House.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangville, called it an "invitation" to the president and Interior Department to talk about the issue. Utahns, he said, don't want another national monument and that it would be "un-American" for the Legislature to not "speak our piece."

Hinkins said the state would do "whatever it takes to oppose" Bears Ears becoming a national monument.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said telling the president he can't use his authority is state overreach.

Most of the time devoted to the bill in the House was focused on inserting tougher language into the already lengthy resolution, including spelling out that the state must "pursue all legal options" to stop the designation.

That amendment, from Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, initially added the word "alleged" in a sentence calling for the attorney general to oppose the president's authority.

The House then went along with a request from House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, to remove the word, but not before some strong objections from Republicans who wanted to make their frustrations clear.

"How far have we gone? There are already three monuments in San Juan County. We don't need more monuments in San Juan County. We don't need more federal bureaucrats," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

But House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he opposed the resolution because he doesn't agree that lawmakers and governors should have "absolute veto power" over a president's ability to designate national monuments.

"We've had a lot of national monuments and national parks designated that were in the face of real strong opposition from the locals and the states involved," King said, including Zion National Park. "It's not unusual that that happens."

King and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, both raised the issue of how much support there is for the lengthy resolution among members of Native American tribes.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — representing five major Native American tribes — has been joined by environmental groups in urging Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the new monument in southeastern Utah.

Several Utah Navajo chapter leaders have spoken out adamantly against the proposed 1.9 million-acre monument for the Bears Ears area, saying it would threaten sacred ceremonies and their ability to use the land.

A new UtahPolicy.com poll on Bears Ears released Wednesday found only 17 percent of Utahns support President Barack Obama setting aside the area as a national monument.

Thirty-six percent wanted the 1.9 million acres left as is, while 31 percent preferred the area being designated by Congress as a national conservation area, with some protections and local land control.

The poll was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates May 2-10 of 588 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. It comes a day after a pro-monument group released a poll showing 71 percent favor a monument.

Utah Diné Bikéyah held a rally at the Capitol with a live video link to a rally in Monument Valley in southeastern Utah favoring the monument designation. Supporters wore "Protect Bears Ears" T-shirts as they cheered and listened to music.

Several Utah-based outdoor retailers, including Black Diamond, Petzl and Kuhl, expressed disappointment over the Legislature adopting the resolution, which they say is an attempt to thwart efforts of Native American tribes and other supporters to safeguard the area.

"Protecting an area like Bears Ears is not only the right thing to do for its cultural values, but it will protect for future generations the activities our customers love and use our products for," said Peter Metcalf, founder of Salt Lake-based Black Diamond. "As a Utah business leader, it is about time that the Legislature embraced an opportunity like Bears Ears instead of throwing up roadblocks."

Herbert, the majority of the Utah Legislature, the San Juan County Commission and Utah's congressional delegation oppose a monument creation and instead favor protections that would come with the establishment of a national conservation area, which isn't as restrictive for land uses.

According the resolution, Herbert noted that another monument designation in Utah would "inflame passion, spur divisiveness, and ensure perpetual opposition."

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