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Editorial: Bishop is wrong to call for national monuments to be undone

First Published      Last Updated Dec 09 2016 06:10 am

Rob Bishop has made it clear that he would like for the Antiquities Act of 1906 to just go away. And for all those who support the law to "die."

Until one or both of those happen, though, neither the incoming president nor anyone else should listen to the congressman from northern Utah as he attempts to undo any number of national monuments that have been — or, in the next few weeks, may be — created by presidential order.

The Antiquities Act is first cousin to what's rightly been called "America's best idea," its system of national parks. Both are designed to fulfill the vision shared by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and others to preserve culturally significant, ecologically fragile or just plain gorgeous landscapes for generations to come.




Every square inch of every national monument is land that was already owned by the people of the United States of America and held in trust for them — all of them, now and forever — by the federal government.

The idea that a future president could undo what a previous president has done in that process would be as nonsensical, and as cruel, as one president granting clemency to an inmate and the next president sending him back to death row.

The necessity of giving presidents such extraordinary authority is demonstrated by the ongoing dispute over 1.9 million acres of land in southeast Utah.

The expanse known as Bears Ears has been proposed for what may be President Obama's final monument designation. The move is favored by environmental activists and by the duly elected leaders of the Navajo and many other Native American tribes.

Bishop and others argue that a different process, one that brought many stakeholders to reason together and produce a solution that would be enshrined in an act of Congress, would be better than a sweeping presidential edict. It would.

And public support for the monument among Utahns is not overwhelming. A recent Pew Charitable Trusts poll said Utah voters favor the monument, 55 percent to 41 percent. A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics survey flips the response, 43-40 against, with 17 percent undecided.

But Bishop's attempt at a settlement, the Public Lands Initiative, values mainly the views of some local elected officials and out-of-state corporations that have donated more than 90 percent of the congressman's campaign money.

It also minimizes the fact that monument-related tourism, while not the boom-and-bust cash cow of the extractive economy, is the best long-term hope for the area.

If the PLI is still the best we can do as a legislative solution, Obama should designate the Bears Ears Monument. But he should leave room for further negotiations on how all the stakeholders can share management. That way it can stand the test of time like so many monuments that came before.

 

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