SALT LAKE CITY — If President Donald Trump does not rescind the December designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, a Utah lawmaker is proposing the state acquire the property and manage it in conjunction with Native American tribes.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said the federal government is allowed to lease or sell public lands for recreational or public purposes under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.
Noel's HCR24, unveiled Friday, asserts the state is willing and able to apply under the provisions in the act to own or lease the land that is presently designated as Bears Ears National Monument, which comprises 1.35 million acres in San Juan County.
The resolution is not intended to supersede HCR11 — already passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert — but acts as another symbol to the state sentiment of federal overreach, according to the language in the resolution.
HCR11, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, asks Trump to rescind the Bears Ears monument designation made Dec. 28 by the Obama administration.
That resolution, plus another seeking to shrink the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, have sparked a political frenzy in the state and in part led the Outdoor Industry Association to pull the lucrative Outdoor Retailer show from Utah after the contract expires next year.
Environmental groups and Native American leaders have been highly critical of the state's part in the conversation over protecting the region, which is said to contain more than 100,000 archaeological sites, including graves.
A coalition of five Native American tribes sought protection for the rugged and remote region, traveling to Washington, D.C., to press support by the Obama administration for their cause.
The majority of the land is already owned by the federal government — the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service — but supporters of the designation argued that monument status would bring an additional layer of protection.
Tribes, too, wanted a say in the management of the land, and the monument proclamation includes a mechanism to set up an advisory committee to provide tribal guidance.
Noel's resolution also includes management provisions for Native Americans.
"Management and stewardship over the land would be a joint coalition effort that includes southwestern Native American tribes, the Utah Division of American Affairs, local elected officials, and the local Navajo Nation chapter surrounding the Bears Ears area," the resolution states.25 comments on this story
Since the designation and in the aftermath of the reaction by Utah's political leaders, monument supporters have waged an intense campaign to make sure the Trump administration knows to keep the monument intact.
On the flip side, monument critics have done their own campaigning to get the designation unraveled. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, both R-Utah, said they have met with Trump and the Bears Ears designation is on the president's radar.
Both opponents of the monument and its supporters have invited Ryan Zinke, the nominee for secretary of the interior, to visit Utah before making any decision.