ZION NATIONAL PARK — Senator Orrin Hatch traded some time from all the hustle and bustle he deals with in Washington D.C. for a visit to Utah this week to take in the state’s beauty and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
Shadowed by an entourage of staff members and Secret Service, Hatch toured Zion National Park Wednesday with Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh.
“This is something I need to do periodically, to come and see the national parks and make sure everything is going right and see what we need to do as a delegation to keep up our parks and keep a good order between the citizens of Utah and the federal government. So this is a very important trip, but it’s not an easy one,” Hatch said while chatting with reporters about his trip and several issues concerning Utah.
The visit was the first stop for the senator on a weeklong tour of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks. The trip is an effort by Hatch to affirm his support of the parks while also highlighting some of the federal issues facing the state right now, specifically the controversially proposed Bears Ears national monument in San Juan County.
The Republican senator and the rest of Utah’s GOP congressional delegation have been working against President Barack Obama’s proposal to offer permanent environmental protections of the Bears Ears area by designating it a national monument.
“We believe the Antiquities Act is overused. We feel President Clinton went way overboard than he should have,” Hatch said. “Now this problem with Bears Ears is that naturally the federal government wants to tie up as much land as they can. We don’t want that.”
Hatch likened the proposal of the Bears Ears monument to the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 by President Bill Clinton saying, “that one still rankles us.”
“I always thought the designation down south was out of line but this would be even more out of line because it would involve millions of acres of prime Utah land, especially when the delegation is willing to work with them and try to resolve this so there isn’t the animosity that arose out of the prior designation.”
Unlike the first time around when Clinton made the designation without even discussing it with state leaders, this time there has been an opportunity for Utah’s senators and representatives to work with the president’s administration in finding a resolution.
Congressional Representatives Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz have been actively trying to come to a compromise or find an alternative that when finished will balance environmental soundness with state’s rights, Hatch said.
Likewise, he believes Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell is willing to work with Utah’s delegation and would rather do so than have the president designate millions of acres “against our will,” referring to the delegation and state leaders.
In a private discussion with St. George News, Hatch also discussed his thoughts on Stewart and Chaffetz recently introducing legislation that, if passed, would take away the law enforcement arm of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
“That’s very difficult to do because although we would like to have the BLM to be more responsive to Utah we’re only one state and six federal leaders with two senators on the floor and four in the very large House of Representatives,” Hatch said.
The senator attributed some of the problems in effecting change to the “radical” environmental voice in Washington D.C. that he maintains has a lot of control over the Democratic Party.
As for the idea that Utah will be able to find a way to force the federal government to allow the state to manage the public lands, Hatch doesn’t think that will happen anytime soon.
“Well, I wish we could, but that’s not going to happen,” he said. “And it’s not just environmental groups, but it’s mainly environmental groups, but it’s that we’re only one state. There are 50 states and most states don’t mind pushing everything off on Utah. We just don’t have the votes. Now there could come a time where we could get the votes to run our own lands but I don’t see that in the new future.”
Hatch highlighted the importance of the 3.6 million visitors to Zion last year, a 30 percent increase from the numbers seen just a decade before. Park officials have been working to develop a new management plan to address the record crowds.
But even with the tourist numbers climbing, Hatch said tourism is too important to Utah and the area to limit the number of people going into the park.
“Zion is the most well visited place in the world. Tourism is crucial to Utah,” Hatch said. “Last year just in taxes alone the state brought in $1.1 billion and if you look at tourism, it brings in $7 to $8 billion and that’s going up every year. Tourism is big business in Utah, and we’re very pleased to support it. I would have to say that we’re doing a great job here in Utah. It’s the most beautiful state in the Union.”
He continued, “I don’t want to do that (limit visitors). Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth and we ought to get as many people who want to see it as we can possibly get through here.”
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