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Bears Ears opponent, supporter team up for bill to benefit community

President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument
Posted at 5:16 PM, Feb 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 00:42:03-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Phil Lyman's positions on Bears Ears National Monument are well-known.

As a San Juan County commissioner, he was among those cheering when President Trump signed an executive order to shrink the monument created by President Obama.

Now, FOX 13 has learned that Rep. Lyman, R-Blanding, is teaming up with a strong supporter of the monument, Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, on a bipartisan bill that would help to create a visitors' center outside Bears Ears National Monument.

In his run as the Democratic candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District, Owens was a vocal supporter of the monument and wants President Biden to expand it back to its original boundaries.

In a joint memo to House Speaker Brad Wilson that was shared with FOX 13, the two state lawmakers inform him of a bill to be introduced in the legislative session that would create a task force to build a visitors' center for the Bears Ears National Monument "as a means to enhance the area’s cultural and historical significance and to better manage increasing visitation and the growing impact of outdoor recreation and tourism in and around Bears Ears National Monument."

"In creating the task force, the state will extend an invitation to the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe to participate in the task force for the purpose of exploring the feasibility, location, functions, and other important matters surrounding the creation of a visitors' center," the memo states.

But the memo makes it clear that neither Reps. Lyman or Owens are retreating from their views on Bears Ears National Monument.

"This bipartisan legislation does not express support for or opposition to the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, nor does it address its ongoing boundary dispute. While Representatives Lyman and Owens maintain opposing personal positions on these questions, they have found common ground from which they can serve their constituents and the interests of all Utahns," the memo states.

Still, it's an acknowledgment that Bears Ears National Monument is here to stay — in some form. The memo states that tourism in that area of southeastern Utah has shot up nearly 73% since the monument was created in 2016. San Juan County has experienced increases in tourism activity.

Any visitors' center would need funding, and the memo lays the groundwork for it. Any task force created as a result of the bill's passage would present its recommendations to the House's Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee in November.