Utah Senator Mike Lee along with Senator Orrin Hatch, have introduced a senate bill they refer to as the “Utah National Monument Parity Act.” The bill is the latest effort by Utah to derail what some consider the imminent declaration of another National Monument within the Beehive State. This latest move would provide a legislative roadblock to future efforts similar to another designation currently under consideration by the Obama administration. The most recent request for antiquities protection was made by a Native American tribal coalition which has petitioned the White House for the designation of the Bears Ears area in Utah’s San Juan County.
Mounting concerns about the ongoing looting of antiquities and artefacts sacred to native peoples throughout the four-corners states have pushed the topic to the forefront of congressional hearings and western news.
The Antiquities Act, originally made law by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, has been revised twice since its enactment as a remedy for similar looting and public vandalism at Mesa Verde in Colorado, less than 75 miles away from the proposed Utah site. Lee has been instrumentally involved with the state’s opposition to a monument declaration and seeks a reduction in power of the Antiquities Act similar to that issued for Wyoming in 1950.
At that time, following the incorporation of Jackson Hole into the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming secured an amendment requiring Congressional consent for any future creation or enlargement of National Monuments there. The Lee amendment would prohibit the further declaration of National Monuments in Utah without congressional approval in a similar manner. Presently, Utah’s economy is the beneficiary of tourism and the educational resources of five national parks (created by congress) and seven national monuments. All of these resources were created from public lands supervised by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Lee announced that his “parity” bill allows for “protections from Antiquities Act abuse,” and indicated that “Utahns don’t like it when out of state special interest groups tell us how to use our land.”
Several hearings, conducted by the Interior Department as well as Lee’s office, have occurred within the past eight weeks to determine a course of action involving the interests of numerous stakeholders. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell brought her staff to tour the specific area and to listen to local concerns. Utah’s congressional delegation, led by Rob Bishop, developed the Public Lands Initiative in response and that bill was heard in the House natural resources committee on Wednesday, September 15th.
Throughout this coordinated effort to divert presidential action on behalf of Native American requests, Lee and Bishop’s critics maintain that extraction industry lobbyists control the opposition to reasonable protections that will include local management and conservation planning.