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Lawmakers to Obama: No National Monument Here

Utah lawmakers made it clear in Wednesday’s special session that state leaders don’t want President Obama to create a new national monument in Utah.

Lawmakers didn’t dispute that an area called Bears Ears in southeastern Utah should be protected. It’s scenic and sacred to Navajos and other Native Americans.

But they wanted to send a strong message to President Obama: That he has no right to use the Antiquities Act to create a national monument that Utah locals and lawmakers don’t approve.

“This body has to come out in strong support for the fact that the president is using this act for improper purposes,” said Rep. Mike Noel, a Kanab Republican whose legislative district includes much of the land rumored to be under consideration,1.9 million acres.

The resolution’s supporters said a monument would harm the land and the people who inhabit it and undermine local control.

But a coalition of more than two-dozen tribes has joined environmentalists in backing the monument proposal. Mark Maryboy, a Navajo and a former San Juan County Commissioner, spoke at a Capitol rally held just before the Legislature voted. He clutched binders containing 1,300 requests from Native Americans who want the monument.

“I’m going to bring all these documents to the governor’s office so there’s no misunderstanding,” he told the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda.

Tribal members opposing a monument also watched the debate. They favor the Utah congressional delegation’s stalled Public Lands Initiative, which includes a national conservation area with a smaller footprint.

Wednesday’s resolution doesn’t carry the force of law. But it passed both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly. The vote was 64 to 10 in the House and 22 to 5 in the Senate.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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