Utah Wants to Downsize Grand Staircase-Escalante

Utah Wants to Downsize Grand Staircase-Escalante

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state of Utah wants to reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The Utah Attorney General's office on Tuesday asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to file a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit that is challenging the creation of the monument in 1996 by then-President Clinton.

The Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation has claimed Clinton violated provisions of the 1906 Antiquities Act in creating the 1.7 million acre monument in 1996.

The Antiquities Act gives the president authority to create national monuments.

Utah is not challenging the legitimacy of the monument, only its boundaries, said Deputy Attorney General Mark Ward.

"The issue, for us, is whether the president reserved too much land to achieve the purposes of the monument," Ward said. "The Antiquities Act says the president shall preserve only the minimum amount of land that is necessary to protect the features that the president wishes to protect."

The state anticipated hearing the court's decision within days.

Ward said Utah has made no proposals about how large the monument should be, saying that matter should be argued at the district court level.

"The monument is a fixture in southern Utah and the economy in southern Utah has prospered because of the monument," said Steve Bloch, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "Bottom line, it's a national treasure and fully deserving of the protection it received from the president. For Utah to come in a decade later, in support of having the monument set aside, is shocking."

The deadline to file friend-of-the-court documents ended Nov. 24. However, the state's filing Tuesday asked for a waiver since new Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who took office Jan. 3, resolved to change the state's position once he became aware of its issues.

"We gave it a fresh, new legal look. It seems like the right thing to do," said Huntsman Chief of Staff Jason Chaffetz.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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