Governor, joins San Juan County Native Americans to fight against national monument

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Gov. Gary R. Herbert joined San Juan County Native Americans at the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon to send the Obama administration a straightforward message: unilaterally designating Bears Ears as a national monument would be a mistake.

“A Bears Ears national monument is not supported locally. It would exacerbate an already tense situation, and fan the flames of conflict on Utah’s public lands,” Gov. Herbert said at the rally.

President Obama is being pressed by environmental groups to misuse the Antiquities Act to designate 1.9 million acres in southern Utah as a national monument. The governor, Commissioner Benally, who is Navajo, and others at the Capitol said that would be the wrong way to protect the area.

Benally and other Utah Navajos maintain that establishing a national monument would further harm Utah’s most economically distressed region, putting federal bureaucrats who are unfamiliar with their history and traditional ways in charge. The measure could prevent Navajos from hunting, gathering wood and medicinal plants, and performing their cultural traditions.

Gov. Herbert said at the event that there is a better way to protect the area—one that has garnered widespread support, respects Navajos’ religious freedoms and cultural traditions, and better preserves such iconic locations such as Cedar Mesa, Indian Creek and Bears Ears Buttes.

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder today to say loud and clear that the Public Lands Initiative is the right mechanism to accomplish the right goal,” the governor said.

As outlined by Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, the Public Lands Initiative would designate more than 1.2 million acres of federal land for conservation in San Juan County, including the Bears Ears area.

“We are prepared to work with the Administration to get the Public Lands Proposal signed into law,” said Gov. Herbert, adding that supporters speak for the vast majority of Utahns, including Utah Navajos and San Juan County residents.

“If the Administration chooses instead to listen to groups outside of Utah and moves forward with a unilateral monument designation, it will polarize federal land-use discussions for years, if not decades to come,” the governor said.

San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, Rep. Mike Noel, Rep. Keven Stratton and others joined in the discussion.

Video from The Sutherland Institute.

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