OPINION — It created quite a firestorm when President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate 1.3 million acres in San Juan County to be set aside for the Bears Ears National Monument. People on both sides of the issue lined up to either cheer the decision or show their displeasure.
As residents of Utah, we are very proud of our rural culture, and the vast beauty of this area we’re so blessed to live in. I am constantly amazed at the diverse splendor that is Utah. We also recognize that these pristine lands add a great deal to our economy and have done so for over 200 years, primarily due to the multiple use concept that is prevalent in our state.
Those of us who have used the lands over the years know that if you take care of the land as a valuable resource, it will continue to allow for prosperity, and if you abuse the land it will quickly lose its value and its usefulness. As often happens when you have two diametrically opposing sides on an issue, the best solution lies somewhere in the middle, and that is the case with the Bears Ears designation.
There has to be a balance where the natural beauty and areas of religious and tribal importance are protected, and at the same time, surrounding lands that don’t meet those qualifications would still fall under the multiple use concept.
It was made known this week that Secretary Zinke will be recommending to President Trump that he drastically reduce the size of the Bears Ears designation to something that will indeed protect certain sensitive areas, and still leave open access to the rest of the land. It is my opinion, and that of many of my legislative colleagues, that this is, in fact, the correct approach to this designation.
It is very hard to justify taking 1.3 million acres completely out of production, when all of the state parks, national parks and national monuments in Utah (except for the Grand Staircase National Monument), only total 850,000 acres.
To create one national monument that exceeds all the land designated in those other designations does seem to beg the question of whether the size is appropriate. If the same criteria that was used with Bears Ears was used when Cedar Breaks National Monument was created, then the town of Panguitch would be inside that monument.
There is still a lot that has to happen in congress and the courts before the actual size of the Bears Ears National Monument is determined. There will be more contention and saber rattling on both sides.
I do believe strongly there are areas in the designation that deserve protection by a monument designation, and I believe just as strongly that there are hundreds of thousands of acres in the designation that need to stay in the multiple use domain.
I would hope that we can all come together on a compromise size and management plan that will best serve all of our citizens both in Utah and outside of Utah on this matter.
Written by SEN. EVAN VICKERS.
Senate District 28 (Beaver, Iron, eastern part of Washington counties).
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