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Utah Leaders: A Bears Ears Threatens Obama Legacy

Judy Fahys
Governor Gary Herbert is joined by Utah GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz in condemning any plans by the Obama administration to create the Bears Ears National Monument before leaving office.

Governor Gary Herbert said he checked in with the White House recently on rumors about the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

“What the chief of staff told me Monday is that a decision had not been made,” said Herbert, speaking to reporters at his regular monthly news conference at KUED television studios.  “So, who knows what's going on behind the scenes? We certainly hear a lot of rumblings out there.”

Herbert was joined by Congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop in making an 11th-hour demand Thursday that the Obama administration drop any plans for a new national monument in Utah. The three Utah Republicans spent half an hour denouncing the Bears Ears proposal and describing how they’ll unravel it if need be.

“There is a right way to do this,” said Chaffetz, praising the Public Lands Initiative, “and it's to have the maximum local input so that we can get the certainty that people deserve.”

The lands plan, which would have to be revived in the next session of Congress, is embodied in a bill that sets mining, grazing and other land uses for 18 million acres of eastern Utah. The measure includes some Bears Ears concepts, but environmentalists, archaeologists and Native Americans have rejected it.

If Obama uses his power under the Antiquities Act to create a new monument in Utah, his legacy’s at risk, Bishop warned. The incoming administration could kill not only Bears Ears, but past and future monuments, too.

“Bears Ears would be so excessive, so egregious, this would be an easy opportunity to establish a precedent going in the future,” Bishop told reporters.

Democrat Obama will have the power to create a monument until the Republican Trump administration takes office on January 20th.

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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