Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
Ken Salazar

WASHINGTON — Scott Matheson opposed the MX missile system. Mike Leavitt cried foul over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Jon Huntsman Jr. railed against the Divine Strake nuclear test.

But just when it looked like Gov. Gary Herbert would have his own fight with the federal government — over the fate of two wilderness areas in southern Utah — he may have nipped it in the bud.

Herbert met Sunday in Washington with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and secured a guarantee of local input before any decision on whether to designate the San Rafael Swell or Cedar Mesa as national monuments.

Salazar and undersecretary David Hayes plan to visit Utah in April to meet with Herbert's Balanced Resource Council, the governor said.

"This is a significant win for the people of Utah," Herbert said. "I'm pleased (Salazar) accepted my invitation."

An internal Interior Department document leaked last week lists 14 areas in Western states as "candidates for national monument designation" by President Barack Obama.

Among them are the San Rafael Swell, a 3,000-square-mile plateau mostly in Emery County, and Cedar Mesa, a 400-square-mile area of San Juan County noted for its Native American artifacts and ruins.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the authority to create national monuments without the approval of Congress.

Herbert said he told Salazar: "Please pardon our paranoia in Utah because of what we were told before."

The state's congressional delegation and other elected officials have condemned the planning process, saying it recalls the stealth creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996.

"(Salazar) assured me that would not happen," Herbert said. "We want to work together (with the federal government). There should not be this kind of adversarial mentality."

The Interior Department has said the document merely reflects "brainstorming discussions" with the Bureau of Land Management. Herbert said he is not supporting or opposing the designation of the areas as national monuments but is primarily concerned about the process.

Environmental groups have hailed the possibility of protecting more wild land, but local officials say the areas, already used for grazing and potential sites of significant coal and oil development, are vital to their economy.

"People are a little bit on edge, and I understand the emotion that's behind it," said Herbert, who attended the meeting along with several other Western governors.

30 comments on this story

"Lots of us are concerned that the federal government is starting to encroach well beyond what its role was envisioned to be, and we're starting to see pushback," he said.

Some of that pushback could come this week, as Herbert weighs whether to sign a bill that would exempt Utah from certain federal firearms regulations.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who has proposed legislation promoting local control over wilderness areas, will hold a "Take Back Utah Rally" 1 p.m. Tuesday at the state Capitol to advocate "multiuse" of public lands.