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Utah Legislature votes to shed Bears Ears monument designation

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue  |  Posted Feb 3rd, 2017 @ 6:29pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — An indignant Utah Senate voted 22-6 Friday to urge the unraveling of the Bears Ears National Monument designation in San Juan County, bristling at the process used under the Antiquities Act and what they say was indifference to a majority of statewide sentiment.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, the Senate sponsor of HCR11, said if a monument designation had been made for the Bears Ears region via congressional legislation subsequently signed by the U.S. president, he wouldn't be arguing against the new monument.

"It's absolutely wrong," the Senate president said, asserting the legislative process was circumvented with one person's pen via presidential proclamation.

The 1.35 million-acre monument was created in late December by former President Barack Obama in the waning days of his administration and was largely seen as a poke in Utah's eye.

Obama was vacationing in Hawaii with his family over the holidays when the White House made the announcement on Dec. 28.

"I find it insulting that President Obama couldn't even interrupt his golfing in Hawaii" for the monument designation, said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Democratic opponents to the resolution, which had already passed in the House and now awaits Gov. Gary Herbert's signature, pointed to the failure of the Public Lands Initiative to gain any traction as the impetus for the monument's creation.

The massive public lands bill carried by Republican Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz proposed land uses covering 18 million acres in eastern Utah, including the Bears Ears region.

Instead of a monument designation, however, the bill called for two national conservation areas in the Bears Ears area that would have still allowed for multiple uses in a less restrictive land management strategy.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the proposal turned into a game of politics and was never a sincere attempt by Bishop or others in Utah's congressional delegation to answer Native Americans' concerns in the region.

"The process fell apart and got all political," Dabakis said, earlier emphasizing the anti-Bears Ears resolution as a "dumb bill."

Niederhauser, joined by other colleagues, defended the initiative and said the legislation, while a messy exercise in compromise, is the right way to protect land.

"You say the process broke down and it did not get through Congress. That is not an argument," Niederhauser said. "It is not supposed to be easy."

"Two wrongs don't make a right," emphasized Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

But Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the majority of people in her district — the hunters, the campers and the anglers — support the Bears Ears monument.

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Mayne added that the only "stream" in her district is a canal, and outdoor spaces are valued.

"We have no place to go," she said. "It's hard for us."

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, the only Republican member of the Senate to vote against the resolution, said he had hoped for a compromise solution that stopped short of upending the entire designation.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, stressed that he supports monuments but said the rescission of the designation would allow parties to "reset the clock" and start a better process.

Friday's vote came after the Senate voted to suspend the rules and move the resolution to the front of the line. Its passage followed twin hearings before Senate committees on Thursday and passage in the House earlier this week in a fast-tracked process designed to deliver a strong message to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the White House.

Both HCR11 and a resolution to shrink the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were requested for consideration before the Legislature by Utah's congressional delegation, who will wave the document as a flag in the war on federal "overreach."

Pro-monument group Utah Dine Bikeyah board members are marching out their own paperwork with a letter to Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, imploring him to accompany them on a field trip to Bears Ears and attend a community meeting before making any decision.

"Grass-roots people who depend on this landscape every day would like the opportunity to explain why we have worked so hard and so long to create this first-ever Native American national monument that honors our history and points toward our future," the letter reads.

The organization invited Zinke to attend a Monument Valley community meeting and meet with tribal leaders to discuss the designation.

"We do not want any action that will change the boundary, deny the role of traditional knowledge, develop these lands, undermine local voices or disgrace our ancestors who still reside there. To truly appreciate what is at stake, you must see the landscape and you must hear the wisdom of elders for yourself," the letter states.

Utah Dine Bikeyah says it developed the monument proposal seven years ago at the request of local elders, and their input in the Public Lands Initiative process and other land management planning was either ignored or shut out.

Critics of the Native American tribal "movement" behind the Bears Ears campaign say that support was co-opted by environmental and conservation organizations that reasoned there was a better chance for a monument if it came gift wrapped with a distinct cultural bow.

Both sides in the monument debate claim support from local tribal members or grass-roots people.

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