Utah Republicans: Obama might declare Bears Ears National Monument next week

Posted at 3:31 PM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-14 23:37:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Members of Utah's Congressional delegation said Wednesday they are hearing rumors President Barack Obama may designate a national monument in the Bears Ears area as early as next week, and they are urging the president not to do so.

Utah Senator Mike Lee posted a video on YouTube Wednesday, saying he wants to talk to his constituents "about some disturbing rumors we are hearing in Washington D.C... we're hearing today that President Obama may well be moving forward with a monument designation."

Lee said he hopes the rumors are false, but he called on the president not to take such action.

"President Obama, if you happen to get this message at some point, I implore you, not to do this, please don't take this step."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert stated Wednesday he has spoken to the White House and urged the president "not to act unilaterally. Process matters. #NoMidnightMonument"

Congressman Jason Chaffetz also spoke out against a monument designation Wednesday, Tweeting: "NO MIDNIGHT MONUMENT!, Mr. President. #nomidnightmonument". The congressman expanded on his position Wednesday in an interview with Fox 13, and said he will work with the Trump administration to reverse the decision should President Obama make the designation.

"It would be terribly arrogant and irresponsible to do this in the waning hours of the Obama Administration," Chaffetz said.

He said the Obama Administration has gone silent when it comes to talking about the Bears Ears area, which has him worried.

"We`ve been going back and forth with the administration for some time now," Chaffetz said. "And now that they've gone radio silent, and you start to hear these environmentalists perking up with these rumors of a monument, we`re afraid that it might be in the works."

The Sutherland Institute also addressed the rumors of a pending designation Wednesday, citing multiple sources who say the designation will be 1.4 to 1.9 million acres of land in San Juan County. The conservative political action group called on San Juan County residents to take to social media to protest any such designation.

"I can tell you what a devastation a national monument designation will be," said Matt Anderson with the Sutherland Institute.

The possibility of national monument designation in the area has been a heated topic in Utah, with many Utah lawmakers calling plans for an expansive monument an example of federal overreach.

They also point to President Bill Clinton's 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as an example of a surprise designation.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to San Juan County to hear feedback from residents. 

Utah Tribal leaders expressed their support for a Bears Ears National Monument in a 6-1 vote earlier this year. 

"We are still hopeful that a national monument designation will happen," said Cynthia Wilson, with Utah Dine Bikeyah. "There`s no place else where tribes have united to ask for a national monument."

The group, made up of allies from several tribes, supports the potential move by President Obama because Wilson said it will protect the area. Tribes regard the Bears Ears area as a place sacred to their history and culture.

"Bears Ears is a spiritually powerful place that needs protection," Wilson said.

Utah Dine Bikeyah came up with a proposal for the national monument designation. While they hope President Obama follows through on the rumors, Chaffetz and Lee hope speaking out will halt any last-minute move by Obama before he leaves office.