SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert hand-delivered a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday urging him to refrain from creating any new national monuments in Utah and instead allow the local process to unfold.
Herbert, in Washington, D.C., for a White House press briefing, also met with President Obama, personally reminding him of the resentment that persists nearly 20 years later in the wake of the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Utah leaders only learned of that 1996 designation — which set aside land 2 ½ times larger than the entire state of Rhode Island — via media and absent any state or local collaboration, Herbert said.
In his letter, the governor also pointed to the current anti-federal sentiment related to government land management agencies and how any designation would simply fuel that anger in Utah.
"Given the heated and antagonistic environment, which exists currently related to public lands, I respectfully ask you to refrain from using the Antiquities Act to designate a national monument in Utah," the letter said. "History shows that this sort of action will only exacerbate an already tense situation and will further perpetuate the long-standing public lands conflict."
Rural Utah leaders have a long list of complaints regarding federal land management policies in the state, including reduction in grazing allotments, timber harvest policies they assert are creating dangerous wildfire conditions in national forests, and the overpopulation of wild horses and burros ruining rangeland.
Congressional leaders, joined by Herbert's office and locally elected officials, fear President Obama will heed the call of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which has been pushing for a new national monument spanning 1.9 million acres in San Juan County.
Tribal leaders from several Native American nations are lobbying for the monument designation to help protect the landscape rich with cultural artifacts from looters and off-road activity.
Herbert urged President Obama instead to let a land planning effort play out via the Public Lands Initiative being shepherded by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
"This collaborative, locally driven process to draft legislation is nearing completion, as it is seeking one more round of public comment and feedback for formal introduction," the letter said. "Acting now would completely short-circuit this effort and would likely end a valuable consensus-seeking process."
Bishop's public lands bill so far has drawn a loud chorus of opposition from multiple environmental groups asserting it is a lands "giveaway" to the oil and gas industry, and sets up wilderness areas in name only because of their many exemptions for the Wilderness Act.
Summit County, too, has indicated it will not support Bishop's bill as written because it deviates too much from their land use plans submitted to the congressman.
Herbert, who is currently serving as chairman of National Governors Association, was in Washington, D.C., for the group's winter meeting over the weekend.