Utah council wants governor, AG probe of monument push

Utah council wants governor, AG probe of monument push

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said Wednesday he believes the Native American supporters of a new national monument in San Juan County have been co-opted by environmental groups and an investigation will bear that out.

Noel's request to ask for an investigation by Gov. Gary Herbert's office and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was approved unanimously by the Constitutional Defense Council, but only after the request was broadened to also probe the motives behind any opposition.

"I think it ought not to be a witch hunt," said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, expressing his opposition to launching a "one-sided" probe that only unravels supporters' motivation. He said such an approach would create "more heat than light."

The angst over a potential new monument in Utah dominated much of the discussion during a meeting of the Constitutional Defense Council at the Utah Capitol's Senate building, where Noel said it's in the state's best interest to ferret out the truth.

"I think we should look into this," Noel said, adding that he believes supporters of the Bears Ears National Monument's creation have been manipulated by groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Living Rivers and Grand Canyon Trust.

"This has gone all the way to the president of the United States," he said, adding that their own colleague, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, has been a central figure in the monument push.

Afterward, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorney David Garbett said Noel's accusations were offensive.

"I think that is demeaning and belittling of these tribes," he said. "Essentially what he is saying is that they are not intelligent enough or capable enough to pursue an agenda for their own reasons. I think that is ridiculous and unfortunate."

Garbett said the proposal for a new monument designation to protect 1.9 million acres in San Juan County around the Bears Ears butte formation came from the Native American coalition, made up of five tribes — Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Ute.

"When we saw what they were doing, of course we jumped on board," he said. "Why wouldn't we back this? It aligns with all of our values. By no means we are piloting the ship."

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has long pushed for the passage of America's Red Rock Wilderness Act, first introduced in Congress in 1989 to set aside more than 9.5 million acres of red rock country in Utah. The effort continues to languish, but the land removed from the development table under its provisions includes land that was part of the push for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument, and now the Bears Ears National Monument.

Utah's top politicians fear President Barack Obama will create a new national monument in Utah and elsewhere around the country to bolster his environmental legacy as he winds down his last few months in office.


Noel said Wednesday he's heard rumors of a "mega-monument" that would not only capture Bears Ears but expand Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Herbert has called a special session for May 18 so lawmakers can pass a resolution urging the Obama administration to refrain from any monument designation.

Noel said the Antiquities Act — which gives the nation's executive office the discretion to create monuments — was never intended to extend protections to such large chunks of land for political purposes.

"There's supposed to be imminent threat to those antiquities. There is no imminent threat. When we make decisions that affect a huge block of land, 1.9 million acres, we ought to do it with all the facts in place," he said. "What started out as a planning (tool) has become dictatorial control from the president of the United States."

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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