SALT LAKE CITY — After President Barack Obama declared this week he is "not finished" protecting public lands, Gov. Gary Herbert said he doesn't believe the administration will force any new national monument designations on Utah.
The president's statement came during the signing of a proclamation in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to protect nearly 500,000 acres in New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region.
"I've preserved more than 3 million acres of public lands for future generations. And I am not finished," Obama said, criticizing Congress for not acting fast enough to protect what have been called the nation's "treasured landscapes."
But the governor said Thursday during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED he's not anticipating a repeat of the shock caused by former President Bill Clinton's 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"We were all blindsided. Nobody knew about it," Herbert said. "So that would bother me if that was the approach President Obama is going to take. I would hope that he's not. I would expect that he's not."
Herbert said the president's new designation in New Mexico is also very different from Clinton's decision, which left Utah officials fuming they were kept in the dark about what they saw as an attempt to please environmentalists in an election year.
"The situation in New Mexico, the local communities were asking for it," the governor said. "I don’t hear any of the local communities in Utah asking for any kind of special monument designation."
The governor said he agreed with Obama that Congress should be making decisions about designations and praised legislation by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to put a new process in place before a president could declare a national monument.
That process, Herbert said, "would provide, I think, everybody with the opportunity to say, 'We got some benefit out of this,' as opposed to the animus that would be created" if a national monument was declared without public input.
Bishop said Obama's decision to create the New Mexico monument "is disappointing but it comes as no surprise" because it was on a list leaked in 2010 of sites the administration was reportedly considering for monument status.
Two Utah sites, the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa, were included on the list of more than 130 million acres of "treasured landscapes" identified in the draft memo from the Bureau of Land Management.
Bishop took issue with the impact of the New Mexico designation on the security of the United States border with Mexico, warning land within the monument will be off-limits to the U.S. Border Patrol for routine operations.
"The many issues associated with the new national monument would have come to light if the administration had bothered to allow public input as part of the decision-making process," the congressman said in a statement.
The president used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish the New Mexico monument and four others Wednesday. The other monuments are in the San Juan Islands of Washington and at historic sites in Ohio, Delaware and Maryland.
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