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SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents of a proposed national monument in southeastern Utah are rallying together Wednesday at a news conference in Washington, D.C., featuring Utah's governor, the state's congressional delegation and several Native American groups from Utah.
The media event is planned for midafternoon at the Capitol Swamp and will highlight opposition to the push for President Barack Obama to create the 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County. Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute, will also speak.
Gov. Gary Herbert met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday, a meeting an Interior Department official described as "productive" with both sides agreeing there is broad consensus to protect the region.
"However, the secretary believes the need is urgent, especially since there have been proposals to protect this special place for over 80 years," a statement released late Tuesday said.
Frenzy over a possible new monument for Utah that critics say would lock up a significant chunk of already federally controlled land is taking on a new pitch as fears heighten over the president acting during his last few months in office.
Last week, Obama designated the first ever national marine monument off the East Coast, extending federal protections to nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, despite opposition by several regional fishing organizations.
The designation will lead to a ban on drilling, mining and commercial fishing — although lobster and crab harvesters will have seven years to cease operations.
The marine monument is the 27th time Obama has used his authority under the Antiquities Act to create or expand national monuments, setting aside 553 million acres of land or water through presidential proclamation.
Utah opponents to a Bears Ears monument are even more fearful the president will act given his designation last week that puts deep underwater canyons off-limits to fisheries despite pleas for a compromise.
Utah's political leaders and rural elected officials in the impacted region instead want the Obama administration to let Congress take action on a massive public lands bill sponsored by Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both R-Utah.
That measure proposes to establish a Bears Ears national conservation area in the region, as well as the Indian Creek conservation area for a total of 1.4 million acres. Under the proposal, new mining or drilling would be off-limits in Bears Ears, but historical uses of the land, such as grazing and designated off-highway vehicle routes, would continue.
Bishop argues that a national conservation area provides a co-management option for Native American tribes that cannot be achieved through monument designation and allows for greater flexibility and access for sacred ceremonies or traditions.
The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition says the proposal falls short of needed protections and a new monument is the only way to assure destruction of the landscape won't continue.
The issue of how much protection should be extended to the remote and rugged region dominated by pinyon and juniper and sprawling vistas has created dissent and disagreement among some members and leaders of the Native American community.
While the coalition is made up of leaders of five tribes — the Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, Hopi and Ute — and the monument proposal has the endorsement of 26 tribes nationwide, key Utah Navajo chapters remain opposed.
On Wednesday, members of the Aneth Chapter and Blue Mountain Dine’ of the Navajo Nation will deliver an opposition packet to Jewell that includes anti-monument resolutions from their groups and a petition from the Descendants of Kaayelli.
The packet will also include resolutions from the cities of Blanding and Monticello, the San Juan County Commission and the Utah Legislature, which states its objection to the unilateral use of the Antiquities Act in Utah. A letter of opposition from members of the Utah Wildlife Board is part of the packet as well.
Last week, Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, introduced the Utah National Monument Parity Act, which seeks to have Utah exempted from any future designations like its neighbor Wyoming.