In his monthly news conference, Governor Gary Herbert indicated that U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, had assured him that the Interior Department has “no plans to proceed with the creation of another National Monument designation” within the state of Utah. This would allow the initiative on negotiating the use of public lands within the state to the public/private initiative being pursued by Utah’s Congressman Rob Bishop (Republican). Herbert said that he fully supports the congressman’s effort and that there expects a concrete proposal to appear within the next 12 months.
Over the past year, there has been murmurs that President Obama would designate lands in South-East Utah as newly created national monuments. Desolation Canyon, Greater Canyonlands, the San Rafael Swell and Dine Bikeyah have all been listed as possible cites for the designation. If signed by Obama, these areas would be treated similarly to national parks, but with possibly greater regulation – a fact that has riled many conservatives in the state.
“[The Interior Department] doesn’t have plans to do another Bill Clinton type of destination,” said Herbert in a reference to the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, which caught many Utahns off guard at the time when then President Clinton signed the law creating the monument in 1996 under presidential authority granted by the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Governor Herbert said that while Congressman Bishop’s initiative would create wilderness designations, it may involve “1-1/2 million acres instead of 18 million acres” as has been referred to by special interests in the process. “I have always said that policies should result from negotiation, legislation and then litigation as a final option,” this is why the Governor backs the efforts of Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz in this public lands policy as a state initiative. “There’s been a lot of emotion on this topic, that’s why you see the Cliven Bundy situation and others develop over this,” said Herbert.
David Garbett of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance expressed the news as “No big deal, really. We’ve been negotiating with Congressman Bishop for several months now and would prefer a negotiated agreement as well.” Garbett said that SUWA believes that if there is an impass at the table, his organization, via the Interior Department, may still pursue a presidential designation. “There’s still time for that,” he said.
At least three of Utah’s congressional delegation seem behind the first two options to define the public lands policy, as Congressmen Chris Stewart voiced his opinion at the last state Republican convention. “I support the states’ efforts on the public lands,” said Stewart.