SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert has invited the 14 U.S. senators asking President Barack Obama to designate a Greater Canyonlands National Monument to come to Utah and see for themselves how the state can better manage its public lands.
In letters sent Tuesday to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and the other senators who signed the July 30 request to the president, Herbert cited the visit earlier this week by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., to Moab and Salt Lake City, arranged by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
The GOP governor wrote he wants the senators urging the president to use his executive authority to create the 1.8 million-acre monument to take a similar tour, "to see firsthand what we are doing to preserve these iconic vistas and venues, and optimize the use of our public lands."
Herbert's invitation to the 12 Democratic and one independent senators also comes as the Republican members of Utah's congressional delegation sent a letter of their own to Obama about the proposed designation.
Their letter, also sent Tuesday, asked the president to ignore calls for a national monument coming from a few environmental groups "and their allies in Congress who will never fully understand the needs of our constituents the way we do."
The only Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation, retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, also sent a letter to the president, saying he believes "it would be prudent to consider if additional land should be designated for additional protections, but that is a decision that should be made by Congress."
telling the president any designation is a decision that should be made by Congress with the involvement of stakeholders.
The GOP members of Utah's delegation also asked that the Democratic president respect the ongoing effort led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to develop a plan for managing public lands in Utah that will be introduced in the next Congress.
"I'm sure the White House knows without the letter how Utahns feel," Bishop said. But he said he does not expect the president to take action on the proposed monument while the public lands initiative is moving forward.
"The president doesn't gain much making a political statement here," Bishop said.
Whether any of the senators seeking the monument designation plan to take the governor up on his invitation remains to be seen, but Bishop said he doesn't expect them to make the trip to Utah.
The governor's spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said it's too soon to expect a response since the letters inviting the senators were mailed. He said the governor stands ready to give the senators the same experience Cummings had.
Carpenter said Cummings, a powerful Democrat in Congress, was able to meet with southern Utah officials who told him they want to be able to manage the land, take care of, and support themselves from it.
Cummings, who later met with Herbert, "seemed genuinely touched by that," Carpenter said in an interview with KSL NewsRadio's Doug Wright, feelings that in the "cynical world of politics" can help in decision-making.
"That's what the governor is trying to do here," he said.
Herbert is also asking the senators to support Bishop's public lands initiative, calling it and his invitation an effort to "strike the appropriate balance between preservation and development."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the invitation appears to be a "more polite way" for the governor to send the message that he and other state officials know what's best for Utah.
"Part of this is to say, 'It's easy for you from some other state to say declare a monument in Utah. But that's not what people from Utah, elected officials from Utah, want to have happen,'" Burbank said.
Still, the professor said, Herbert "would be happy to have the senators come and visit and say, 'Here's the side of the story I want you to hear.'"
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