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Can’t we get along? Utah lawmakers seek ‘cooperation’ from Biden on monuments

Resolution asks for congressional solution to divisive monument question

The Arch Canyon area of Bears Ears of the Bears Ears National Monument taken from EcoFLIGHT on Monday, May 8, 2017.
The Arch Canyon area of Bears Ears is seen as members of the media get a chance to fly over the national monument with EcoFlight on Monday, May 8, 2017.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Will Utah’s controversies over national monuments ever be settled?

State lawmakers hope so and are nudging the Biden administration to work with them, and the state’s congressional delegation, to find a permanent legislative solution to the divisive debate arising from the creation of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and their subsequent reduction in size.

On a vote of 62-9 Thursday, House members passed HCR12 and moved it on to the Senate for consideration.

“Colleagues, this resolution is all about a seat at the table and hopefully the involvement of drafting a management plan,” said Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, the House sponsor. “It encourages the Biden administration to work with leaders to create permanent solutions on these issues raised by federal monuments ... You all know for an extended period of time these monuments have been controversial and divisive and kicked around like a football.”

Bears Ears National Monument was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016 over the objection of Utah’s GOP leaders. A year later, President Donald Trump slashed and split the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears into Shash Jaa and Indian Creek national monuments, totaling 201,876 acres.

In the days that followed, multiple groups and Native American tribes sued the Trump administration to overturn his actions. That litigation is now pending in federal court.

The monument’s reduction was heavily pushed by all members of Utah’s congressional delegation, a majority of the Utah Legislature, then-Gov. Gary Herbert and by members of the San Juan County Commission, which now wants it restored after a general election changed who holds office.

Trump also cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah from 1.8 million acres to about 1 million acres and broke it into three separate areas. It was designated to the surprise of Utah leaders in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.

Newly elected President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, directed the U.S. Department of Interior to conduct a review of the monuments’ boundaries.

Albrecht argued that changing the size of the monuments doesn’t “help” anyone and fails to provide certainty.

“The long-term solution is through federal legislation,” he said.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, who said he supports the resolution, called the process of monument designation under Clinton “terrible” and the administration failed to do itself any favors when it invoked the Antiquities Act in that manner.

While the Obama process was much different, King said he agreed there needs to be a legislation solution to the monument debate in Utah.