Rumors and rumblings over Bears Ears monument run rampant

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Members of Utah’s congressional delegation and Gov. Gary Herbert took to social media Wednesday and will participate in an extended news conference Thursday over rampant rumors a Bears Ears monument designation is imminent.

“We’re hearing today that President (Barack) Obama may well be moving forward with a monument designation, possibly designating a monument in the Bears Ears area as early as next week,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Wednesday.

The designation could come as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, noted Lee’s office, based on “rumblings” from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“I want to make clear, if heaven forbid this does happen, I will work tirelessly with the incoming Trump administration to make sure that this national monument never gets off the ground; to make sure it is undone, that is defunded, unwritten, rewritten, repealed, whatever it is that we have to do to undo it,” Lee said in a video he posted on Facebook and YouTube.

Herbert turned to Twitter on Wednesday to say he had asked the president to refrain from a unilateral monument designation.

On Thursday, Herbert’s regularly scheduled monthly news conference on KUED will be expanded from its usual 30 minutes to a full hour.

The first portion of that news conference will include comments from Herbert, as well as Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, with time set aside specifically to discuss a Bears Ears monument designation.

Lee also wrote an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Monday, reiterating his objection to a unilateral monument designation that goes against a statement he said Obama made over his dislike of an imperial presidency.

“We can settle this issue through democracy and compromise — unless Obama decides to cut short this debate by declaring a national monument via executive fiat,” Lee wrote. “As one of his final acts as president, is Obama willing to take our great nation one step closer to the imperial presidency that he, most Americans and I rightly fear?”

Supporters of a new monument in southeast Utah, including the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, have called on the president to designate 1.9 million acres in San Juan County to ward off threats from mining, off-road vehicle use, and destruction of cultural artifacts from looting and vandalism.

In July, several of the president’s top Cabinet officials over public lands, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, visited the region and held public hearings to solicit feedback.

Lee said it was clear from those meetings that there is no consensus on a monument, no clear local “buy-in” from residents and “honest” disagreements on how the land would best be protected.

“The administration recently blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline due to strong opposition from local residents. I urge it to give the same respect to the residents of San Juan County, Utah. They do not want this monument. They do not want outside interests from coastal urban areas dictating to them how to live their lives and manage their lands,” Lee’s opinion piece stated.

After Congress adjourned last week without voting on Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative, environmental groups reiterated their call for protections for Bears Ears, which is a remote and rugged region named for a pair of twin buttes.

“Now that Rep. Bishop has utterly failed to deliver on years of promises to safeguard this region from looting and industrial development, it is time for President Obama to step in where Congress has failed and protect Bears Ears as a national monument,” said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Protecting Bears Ears cannot wait any longer.”

Bishop’s massive public lands bill had a committee hearing in September but has not been acted on since. It proposes to set up twin national conservation areas in the region that offer protections, but to a lesser degree than a national monument, which would prohibit drilling and mining.

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