Washington • Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dedicated two new conservation areas in southern Utah on Monday, the same day Sen. Mike Lee touted his new legislation that would have made it far more difficult for these areas to ever get federal protection.
Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey welcomed the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash conservation areas, which were created in the Washington County Lands Bill of 2009.
That bipartisan legislation grew out of delicate negotiations among conservative county commissioners, environmentalists and other parties — and then championed by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and then-Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
“Today is about celebrating these two crown jewels of Utah and the fact that generations to come will be able to enjoy and appreciate their iconic landscapes,” Salazar said at a ceremony in Ivins, just outside St. George.
But Lee, a freshmen GOP senator who beat Bennett, argues state leaders should have more say in any new land designations.
His bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and three other conservatives, would require the approval of the state Legislature before the federal government could create a new national park, monument or recreation/conservation area.
“The process,” Lee said, “should include greater protections for states and local communities against unwanted and often economically damaging decisions.”
Bennett has argued his bill may never have made it to Congress if he had to get the approval of county leaders, environmentalists and the state Legislature.
In exchange for new wilderness designations and the creation of conservation areas, Washington County received approval to sell thousands of acres to developers around cities such as St. George.
Some counties, such as San Juan, are attempting to negotiate similar legislation.