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Bishop: Obama planning more national monuments in Utah

February 18, 2010
In The News
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By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune

Washington » Rep. Rob Bishop says he has unearthed plans by the Obama administration to wield its power to designate multiple new national monuments in the West, including two that would snatch up thousands of acres in Utah.

But the Interior Department says the document on which the Utah Republican is basing his allegation is simply a draft memo outlining lands that may, in the future, deserve protection.

Two swaths of Utah are mentioned in the document, marked "not for release" -- the San Rafael Swell in the south-central part of the state and Cedar Mesa in San Juan County; the exact size of the potential monuments isn't mentioned.

Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff says Secretary Ken Salazar asked the department's bureaus to identify areas that might be worth further studies as possible management areas or spots for Congress to step in and designate as protected.

"The preliminary internal discussion draft reflects some brainstorming discussions within [Bureau of Land Management], but no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration," Barkoff said. "Secretary Salazar believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities."
Bishop, the head of the Congressional Western Caucus, doesn't buy it, noting that President Bill Clinton's administration denied it was moving to protect any parts of Utah days before it designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Clinton angered many state officials and southern Utah residents in 1996, when, during the heat of his re-election campaign, he went to the Grand Canyon and unilaterally set aside 1.7 million acres in Kane and Garfield counties as the Grand Staircase.
"It could be true, but history has taught us differently," Bishop said. "We've been burned before, and I want to make sure we're not burned again."

The Interior document mentions 14 areas for possible designation as national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows a president to unilaterally designate certain areas for protection.