SALT LAKE CITY — Fed up with what he says is a false narrative about the so-called extraction destiny for Bears Ears National Monument, a Utah lawmaker wants the state to craft its own management plan for the lands in southeastern Utah.
"I am a conservative conservationist," said Rep. Keven Stratton, co-chairman of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, adding it is "completely irresponsible" for people to assert that Utah leaders want mining and drilling in the monument.
In a Tuesday meeting, Stratton, R-Orem, convinced his colleagues on the legislative body to vote unanimously in favor of opening a bill file to create a management plan for the monument in San Juan County.
"I have seen a lot of different reaction to federal plans that have come forth. I have not seen a state-generated plan that takes into consideration (management) and has at the table all the stakeholders," Stratton said.
"I have not seen this legislative body pass a piece of legislation on how we would manage it if we had it."
The vote came after a lengthy philosophical discussion about Bears Ears National Monument, which was designated in 2016 by former President Barack Obama at 1.35 million acres and subsequently shrunk 85 percent last year by President Donald Trump.
The Trump action left Bears Ears divided into two smaller units — Indian Creek and Shash Jaa — and immediately prompted a flurry of lawsuits by Native American tribes and environmental groups challenging the reduction.
A proposed federal management plan by the Bureau of Land Management is now under federal review.
Environmental groups such as the Utah Sierra Club object to the BLM moving forward on a management plan, asserting it is premature given the legal challenges in place.
The BLM has said there is little oil or gas resources on the monument lands, and an idle uranium mine sits outside the boundaries.
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams, who addressed the commission via telephone, said any of the drilling activity that has led to production has happened on nearby Navajo Reservation lands.
One drill hole on school trust lands at Cedar Mesa, he added, was dry.
Stratton said, regardless, the state needs to make it clear on how it want the lands managed.
"What if we started with it and memorialized it here?" Stratton said. "So there isn't this fuzziness or headlines that create this narrative that does not reflect what we are trying to communicate."
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, quoted headlines from newspapers detailing extraction plans in lands at the former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — which was also reduced — and insisted the threats are not "false" news.
That's not the case, responded Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, for Bears Ears.
Stratton emphasized the state needs to quit being so reactionary and acting as a servant to the "master" federal government.
"We have a tremendous divergence of opinion. Can we not bring this together and reset the clock with all interests? Instead of responding to someone’s pen that sits thousands of miles away, we can use our own pen to put together a plan that would protect the cherished treasures that are there," Stratton said.
"At some point the question is going to be asked: What are you going to do with the lands if you controlled them," he added.