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Obama ignored residents’ wishes with Bears Ears designation, legislature says

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 06:03 pm

Public lands » Resolution clears Senate on 22-6 vote; governor signs it into effect.

The Utah Senate on Friday joined the House in urging President Donald Trump to rescind the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.

In a 22-6 vote that split almost entirely along party lines, senators approved HCR11, which asserts that Utahns are in the best position to care for the state's public lands and asks Trump to undo the December action by Barack Obama that protects 1.35 million acres near San Juan County's Cedar Mesa.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed the measure Friday evening, according to a spokeswoman.

Debate over the resolution focused primarily on the designation process.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said there is broad agreement that the Bears Ears area is worthy of preservation. But through his executive action, Weiler said, Obama ignored the wishes of local residents, including American Indians.

"The footprint is too large," Weiler said. "The process was wrong, and I find it insulting that President Obama couldn't even interrupt his golfing in Hawaii to announce this."

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, was the Senate sponsor of the resolution. He said a Bears Ears monument created by Congress may have still prompted opposition from Utahns, but it would not have motivated him to sponsor a resolution to rescind.

He said he would have preferred passage of the Public Lands Initiative, a preservation plan developed by Utah Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

The lands contained within the Bears Ears monument are similar to those included in the PLI, Niederhauser said, but the legislative process would have been more inclusive and representative.

"It's been years of listening and working on a bill that could be presented to Congress and sent to the president," Niederhauser said of PLI. "That's all circumvented by one person's stroke of a pen. It's absolutely wrong."

But Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said Obama was compelled to act in part due to the refusal of Utah's congressional delegation to work with the executive branch.

"Utah would not listen," Dabakis said. "We would not be serious about negotiation."

He criticized the desire of some Utah Republicans to take ownership of federal lands within the state, saying the costs associated with that oversight would drain Utah's resources.

"Heaven help us if this dog catches that car," Dabakis said. "If we ever did get all the federal land, the taxpayers in Utah would go broke."

And Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said Obama allowed Bishop and Chaffetz ample time to prepare and lobby for their Public Lands Initiative.

When their efforts were unsuccessful, Davis said, the former president took action to preserve areas held sacred by an intertribal coalition.

"The president did his duty in declaring that this land should be preserved," Davis said. "I think it is wrongheaded to do this. I think the action of the president was totally appropriate."

Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, voted against the measure, along with the Democrats.

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