Threat of Monument Designation Hovers over San Juan County

As Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz prepare to roll out their Public Lands Initiative bill for southeastern Utah, environmentalists push Pres. Obama to ignore the concerns of Utah stakeholders and use his executive powers to impose a national monument on the region.

Reports E&E’s Phil Taylor:

If Obama designates any monuments in Utah — a controversial move — Bears Ears appears to have the inside track. Such a designation could face less political blowback given that the Bears Ears area is believed to be less coveted by energy companies and already enjoys significant administrative protections. In addition, designating a landscape-scale monument dedicated primarily to preserving tribal vales would diversify Obama’s conservation portfolio.

Bishop and Chaffetz want that option off the table. They’re eyeing language in their bill that would exempt the lands from the Antiquities Act, a move conservationists have pledged to oppose.

National monuments elicit strong reactions in Utah, whose elected officials slammed President Clinton for designating the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. Some San Juan residents fear Obama will take a similar path at Cedar Mesa.

“They’re trying for a major land grab,” said Tamy Jaramillo, who owns Yak’s Center Street Café on Highway 191 in Blanding. “By trying to protect it, they’re destroying us.”

Monument backers say designations bring more tourists and raise property values. Just a few blocks south of Yaks is the Blanding Visitor’s Center, where a sign boasts, “Two national monuments, one destination.” Those monuments, relatively small in size, are the Natural Bridges National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument.