For far too long across the American West, especially on the sweeping and magnificent ranges of Utah’s iconic landscape, there has been an ongoing struggle between those whose livelihoods depend on multiple uses of our public lands and the groups focused on advocating for limited use of those lands. That said, nothing has proven more aggravating to this already extremely divisive fight over these lands, than when a president unilaterally makes decisions concerning the areas, often over the objection of important stakeholders.
In the final days of President Obama’s administration, he ignited widespread frustration, when he locked up 1.35 million acres of land by creating the Bears Ears National Monument. Monday’s announcement by President Trump has likewise created a groundswell of resentment among some groups and citizens both inside and outside Utah.
I believe it is important to view the powers of the executive branch to make these wide sweeping designations with caution. The tool left to the president is like a sledgehammer. It is often used with one big blow, which causes not only the local residents frustration but also leaves many unanswered questions. In the case of Bears Ears these decisions have inappropriately framed the discussion in terms of size. The debate has centered on big vs. small rather than protecting the right areas in the right ways. There are three real questions at hand; are we doing the right things in the right areas, are the right people making the decisions and do have we have the right resources?
Regrettably, this conflict has reached what seems like a new low in terms of distrust, with each side resorting to rhetoric aimed at vilifying the other. That said, I still believe that all sides still share many common goals and values and can work together for the benefit of Utah. We can all agree that these sensitive and significant archeological sites must be responsibly managed for future generations to appreciate. In addition to responsible conservation, we must maintain the multiple use of this land for vitally important activities for our state’s economy such as grazing, hunting, and recreation. During my time as a candidate and now as the congressman representing Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, I have not heard a compelling argument that would suggest that these are not commonly shared goals. In fact, I have found quite the opposite to be true.
I’m grateful that President Trump has been willing to weigh in on this issue. It gives us a chance to move the dialogue off of big or small and focus us on doing the right thing.
The time has come for Congress to ensure that these sites are managed the right way. I define “the right way” as (1) input from Utah’s tribal members, local citizens and governments, (2) a management plan that protects archeological treasures and sacred sites while also maintaining multiple use of the lands such as recreation, hunting, grazing, and (3) utilizing the legislative process and constitutionally mandated checks and balances for both the management and creation of national parks, monuments, recreation and conservation areas. To ensure just that, today I will be joined by the rest of Utah’s congressional delegation in introducing Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act which creates the first tribally managed national monument.
Our bill, the first of its kind, guarantees that the monuments are managed the right way with local input. Specifically, the bill safeguards these newly created monuments by establishing a management council for each, where they will be co-managed by the affected local county governments and Utah Native Americans. Additionally, our bill ensures the right management plan protects sacred and significant archeological sites, while preserving the multiple use and access to much of these lands for recreation, grazing and hunting. Lastly, our bill uses the right process to achieve these goals, with elected representatives in Congress utilizing the legislative process and constitutionally established checks and balances, as opposed to unilateral executive action. The legislative process is the right way to both determine the proper management of public lands and for establishing future national parks, monuments and recreation and conservation areas.
I believe my role as a member of Congress is to bring solutions forward that add stability to the region that compliments our mutually shared goals. That is the Utah way.
For that reason, the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act are not simply about the size or acreage of these monuments; they’re about managing the right places the right way.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Provo, represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.