Greater Canyonlands is one of our most stunning, wild and unique landscapes. It should be protected permanently for the benefit and education of future generations. —Letter
SALT LAKE CITY — Environmentalists are celebrating a letter sent last week to President Barack Obama by 14 U.S. senators asking him to use his power under the Antiquities Act to create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Utah.
"I think other groups will jump on," said Marc Thomas, a Moab-based Sierra Club member who is among the leaders of the campaign to create the new monument. "Other groups will follow the lead of this letter to keep the pressure on President Obama and other politicians."
But such a designation — and the letter — runs counter to an effort being shepherded by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, called the "Grand Bargain" or the Public Lands Initiative.
The effort has involved meetings and field trips across the state and collaboratively draws on diverse interests such as environmental groups, the oil and gas industry, ranchers, local county commissioners and federal land agencies. Bishop also met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at her request at the end of June to keep her up to date on the collaborative effort.
The letter last week by more than a dozen U.S. senators follows another letter sent in late July by more than 200 health care professionals from Utah asking for the creation of the monument.
In that missive, the group stressed that protecting Greater Canyonlands would provide physical, psychological and public health benefits.
The most recent letter, which included signatures by U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., urges Obama to make the designation, calling the action a "meaningful part of your conservation legacy."
"Greater Canyonlands is one of our most stunning, wild and unique landscapes," the letter reads. "It should be protected permanently for the benefit and education of future generations."
None of the senators who put their name on the letter are from Utah, however, where the congressional delegation has been staunchly against any new monument designations.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said the letter smacks of political meddling.
"I'm appalled to see a collection of senators — none of which are from Utah — urging President Obama to create a new national monument in southern Utah's Greater Canyonlands without input from local communities," Stewart said in a statement. "Local and state leaders must be involved in these decisions."
Bishop and other Utah congressmen involved, including Stewart, tout their initiative as a way to build consensus, one compromise at a time, about land-use zones that would set aside some areas as wilderness, some chunks as suitable for mineral extraction and others prioritized for their high recreation value.
Supporters of such a ground-up, grass-roots and locally driven approach to land-use designations hope it will solve many of the disputes and quell the litigation, while also showing Obama that Utah leaders can craft environmental protections absent White House intervention.
Thomas said the lack of support from Utah's congressional delegation simply means it is wrongly deeming the monument's designation as a decision outside the purview of the American public.
"What this tells me is they view this as a Utah problem and not a national issue, that this is land a designation that should not involve anyone outside of the state. Obviously the Sierra Club disagrees with that," he said. "We believe that these lands belong to all Americans and it concerns all of them."
The push for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument designation involves 1.8 million acres that encompass vast swaths of land around the existing Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park in San Juan and Grand counties.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the land is under assault by oil extraction and potash exploration — resource development that needs to happen elsewhere.
"It is one of the most stunning, inspiring pieces of property on the face of the earth," he said.
Dabakis is leading a Utah effort to gather online signatures in support of the monument designation.
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