Watch for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert to take some kind of compromise land use plan to Democrat President Barack Obama soon to stop the president from declaring the Bears Ears area of southeastern Utah a national monument.
“I have a plan,” said Herbert at the end of his half-hour news conference. “But I want to talk to (Obama administration officials) first before (they) see it in the press.”
Herbert declined to be specific about his plan at his monthly KUED Channel 7 press conference with local reporters.
But Herbert said he would “soon” go back to Washington, D.C., to meet with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze “face to face” to present some kind of alternative – most likely a compromise between an Obama 1.9 million acre national monument and the 18 million acre land swap/wilderness protection proposal outlined in Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Land Initiative, or PLI.
There are only a few more weeks of congressional work before the November election, and there is little chance that Bishop’s and Rep. Jason Chaffetz PLI will even get a House vote, much less pass the Senate.
There will be a lame duck post-election congressional session, but usually, those don’t produce significant legislation.
Obama has the power to create national monuments on his own, and most recently expanded a marine preserve in his native state of Hawaii.
Herbert, Utah’s congressional delegation, and Republican Utah Legislators have been pounding on Obama not to create a national monument in the Bears Ears area before the president leaves office in early January.
While national conservation groups and some Native American organizations want the monument.
Many federal watchers say the national monument is coming – as Obama is not well liked in deep red Utah and has nothing to lose politically here.
“There are better ways to approach” the protection of Bears Ears, Herbert told reporters.
“I want to ameliorate the confrontation aspect” of the Bears Ears issue – which has pitted some Native Americans against each other, rural Utah against the Wasatch Front and so on.
A recent UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds that only 19 percent of Utahns want Obama to create a national monument, while several out-of-state, environmentalist surveys show just the opposite – that most Utahns want a Bears Ears national monument.
To say the least, the issue has divided many Utahns, for and against the monument.
But politically speaking Herbert has little leverage with Obama – and basically must rely on the president to agree to some sort of compromise that falls short of a national monument designation.
Perhaps Herbert could offer that Utah state government pick up some of the costs of monument designation – which includes more federal oversight than regular BLM operations.
The governor could also attempt to give local Native Americans – many who see Bears Ears as a spiritual domain – some governance of a “conservation area” – a designation distinction that is allowed under current BLM rules, but which has rarely been used by the Bureau before.
“Hopefully, the PLI can be passed” before Congress adjourns in December, said Herbert. “Then we would (protect) 18 million acres” across eastern and southeastern Utah, “not just 1.9 million acres” in the Obama suggested national monument.
Another national monument in Utah “just creates more problems” of land management, said Herbert.
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in south-central Utah in 1996 – much to the dislike of many Utah GOP officials.
Last year there were a reported 1,400 “violations” within Grand Staircase by visitors and others, said Herbert, while there were only five violations in the Bears Ears area – mainly because few people visit Bears Ears now because it is not a national monument and is off the beaten path.
Stay tuned, Herbert told reporters as he walked out of the KUED studios – the issue of Bears Ears is still evolving.