Senators Lobby For -- And Against -- New National Monument

Aug 7, 2014

  Five members of Utah’s Congressional delegation are hoping to persuade President Obama not to create a huge new national monument in southern Utah, while other members of Congress are urging him to act.

The Greater Canyonlands proposal includes 1.8 million acres of public lands around Canyonlands National Park.  14 U.S. senators, all Democrats, signed a letter to the president last week urging him to use his authority under the federal Antiquities Act to create a national monument.

Governor Gary Herbert has invited all 14 lawmakers to visit Utah and take a look at the area – something Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch thinks would be a good idea.

“If they’re that sincere and they’re not just doing it to raise money, which it appears they are," Hatch tells KUER, "they should come out here and go through these areas and realize that we know our lands better than they would know them.  We also think we can arrive at conclusions as to how best to manage those lands.”

Hatch and the four other Republicans in Utah’s Congressional delegation signed a letter to the president this week, urging him to consult with local officials and others before making any monument designation.

The precedent often cited by opponents of the Greater Canyonlands proposal is the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996.  Jen Ujifusa with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says this is different – for one thing, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

“There’s an ongoing dialogue," Ujifusa tells KUER.  "There has been for several years, and the onus is on the Utah delegation to show us a better way if they don’t want a monument.  And that means getting the Public Lands Initiative to a point where it has meaningful protections.”

Congressman Rob Bishop, who’s in line to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, has led the Public Lands Initiative, hoping to create a comprehensive solution for both protection and development of public lands in eastern and southern Utah.

Last May, President Obama created the Organ Peaks – Desert Mountain monument in New Mexico and said then he wasn’t finished declaring new designations.