Utah leaders issue resolution to undo decades of federal monuments injustices

“When Democratic Presidents exit, Utah has become the ATM for paybacks to special interest groups.” 

Utah State Representative Greg Hughes

“The Tsunami wave of government regulations is taking the family ranch (or farm) out of production.  Those waves have decimated a community.” 

Sterling Brown

Janet Wilcox

On Jan. 26, 2017 the Utah House Rules Committee passed both resolution, H.C.R. 11 urging President Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation, and H.C.R. 12 Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Both resolutions passed six to two.  H.C.R 11 was introduced by Speaker of the Utah House of Representative, Greg Hughes, with witness support from all three San Juan County Commissioners: Rebecca Benally, Phil Lyman, and Bruce Adams.

Rep. Michael E. Noel presented H.C.R. 12. This was written in cooperation with Kane and Garfield County elected officials. Commissioner Leland Pollack, Sterling Brown of the Farm Bureau, and Matt Anderson of Sutherland Institute also gave testimony.

Both concurrent resolutions will be heard in the full House early next week, then they will head to a Senate committee, and should they pass will be voted on by the full Senate prior to consideration by Utah Governor Herbert.  Once he signs the bills they will be sent to the Trump White House and leveraged by the Utah Congressional Delegation in favor of repeal.

Representative Greg Hughes attended the December 29, 2016 rally in Monticello one day after the Bears Ears Monument was designated, and he participated, along with other irate citizens as they protested the Obama action. He proved again, on January 27, 2017, that he understands the negative impacts a national monument will have on rural San Juan. In his preliminary remarks, Hughes took exception to the pages of descriptive embellishments included in the designation, pointing out that “sage brush, juniper, coyotes, mule deer, chipmunks”, and other natural objects mentioned in the first two pages of the Obama designation, are not objects of antiquities. They are “not unique to Bears Ears” and warned that IF this is the criteria for a monument, other places are in jeopardy as well. He called the designation one of the most “prescriptive and prohibitive monuments ever seen.” He noted that when Democratic presidents end their tenure, “Utah has become the ATM for paybacks to special interest groups.”

San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally
Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument (2016)

San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally testified that local Navajo have been victims of too many broken promises from the federal government, and more recently were victims of “oppressors” who chose to make the Bears Ears National Monument a partisan issue, dividing the larger Navajo nation.  She emphasized that the special interest tribal coalition was used as a “show horse” and they were falsely promised co-management by pro-monument forces. “I don’t like it when Native people are romanticized for someone’s purpose.”  Benally explained that the[the tribal coalition] has no more authority than any other group in future planning. She sees the Monument as an attack on tribal sovereignty and their historic use of the land.

Benally also discredited the scare tactics used by proponents who painted pictures of oil rigs and condominiums on Bears Ears. “We are here to right a wrong,” she emphasized.

The “Whereas’es” in Resolution HCR 11 speak clearly of the encroachments and concerns felt by San Juan County residents. The key points in the Resolution follow:

  • Roughly 66% of the land within the sovereign state of Utah is presently controlled by the federal government; [San Juan County is the largest county in Utah and only 8% of its land privately owned.]
  • The 38 non-western states in the Union govern and exercise their constitutional jurisdiction over virtually all the land within their borders, and the legislatures and the governors of those states tend to the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens;
  • On December 28, 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument which limits public access to 1.35 million acres in San Juan County, Utah;
  • Every member of Utah’s Congressional Delegation publicly opposed the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument;
  • The designation of the Bears Ears National Monument sets a dangerous precedent of allowing special interest groups to unduly influence the monument designation process and silence local voices;
  • Local Native American groups with historical ties to [Kayaali] and the area have passed resolutions opposing the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument;
  • San Juan County commissioner Rebecca Benally, whose constituency includes members of the Navajo Nation who live in San Juan County, and the entire San Juan County Commission, opposed the monument designation and unanimously passed a resolution expressing their opposition;
  • Every city council in San Juan County has passed a resolution opposing the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument;
  • In addition, multiple counties across the state have passed resolutions standing unitedly with San Juan County in opposition to the Bears Ears National Monument;
  • Every member of the Utah State Legislature representing San Juan County opposed the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument;
  • The Antiquities Act limits a presidential monument designation to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
  • Bears Ears National Monument is almost twice the size of the state of Rhode Island;
  • The power granted to the president to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act has been exploited and abused by presidents of both parties for over a century;
  • In 1906 designated monuments averaged 15,573 acres, but, in the year 2016, such new designations have averaged 739,305 acres — more than 47 times the size of those created 110 years ago;
  • Because only western states have large areas of federal land within their borders, Presidents who use the Antiquities Act to designate millions of acres of land as national monuments create disparity and negative impacts on western states;
  • Utah is 50th in the nation in per pupil spending due to the large portion of the state that is held as federal land and not subject to property tax. (63%);
  • Normally funding for the Utah public education system comes from the responsible development of abundant natural resources and other economic uses of our public lands;
  • Continued opportunity for multiple uses of our public lands is vital to the economies of San Juan County and the state of Utah, in order to provide tax revenue that supports students’ education statewide;
  • Within the sweep of President Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument designation, lie 109,000 acres of school and institutional trust land designated to produce funding for our school children. Utah is already home to five national parks and seven national monuments;
  • Of those, all or part of four national monuments, one national park, and one national recreation area are located in San Juan County;
  • San Juan County, despite the presence of these national monuments, parks, and recreation areas, is the poorest county in the state and among the most economically depressed in the nation;
  • Navajos in San Juan County experience some of the highest rates of unemployment in the state of Utah;
  • Rural economies depend on multiple uses of our public lands for sustenance and growth;
  • Citizens in rural Utah deserve the equal opportunity to pursue happiness through the protection of their life, liberty, property, and right to determine their own destiny unimpeded by their own federal government;
  • San Juan County residents, including local Native American tribes, fear  that woodcutting, pinion gathering, traditional religious and cultural practices, and a host of other historical uses of the area will be restricted or entirely prohibited;
  • Currently San Juan County’s Natural Bridges National Monument prohibits woodcutting. In addition, grazing has declined by almost a third in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument despite a presidential promise that grazing would “remain at historical levels”;
  • The United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which are charged with managing the Bears Ears National Monument, have a combined deferred maintenance backlog of almost $6 billion;
  • These federal land management agencies clearly do not have the funding to maintain the lands for which they are currently responsible; and Utahans are best positioned to care for and manage our public lands;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, strongly urges the President of the United States to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument designation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the President of the United States, Utah’s congressional delegation, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior;

The concurrent resolution successfully passed through the House Rules Committee with a vote of 6 – 2.

Clinton’s Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument (1996)

In his remarks, Representative Mike Noel spoke extensively about the history of the Kaiparowits Plateau and mining leases that had been paid for and secured for 20 years.  After seven years of paperwork and expense preparing the environmental Impact study preparatory to allowing coal leases to be used, their work was discredited, yet “There were no negative impacts in the report–99% of that coal mine would have been underground,” he emphasized, and it was “low sulfur coal.”  Noel stated that both [GSENM and BENM] were created under false pretenses…and both were done for political purposes.”  The first notice Kane and Garfield counties received after the designation was news that that “over 1000 miles of their existing roads would be closed.”

Noel next read from the June 5, 1906 Congressional Minutes, where the scope of the Antiquities Act was clarified with its original intent being to only secure small areas which would be used for the care and maintenance of objects to be preserved. “We now have more laws than you can imagine. . . .The Antiquities Act is now an antiquity,” he emphasized.

Road litigation has been a major expense for the past 20 years, Noel explained, as the BLM has closed hundreds of county roads.  Noel also talked about the problems the state has in using or trading school trust lands [SITLA]. “It is not good to create monuments.”

Garfield County Commissioner, Leland Pollack, explained the state of emergency declared this past year.  “In 1996 we had 140 students enrolled grades 7-12 and by 2016 there were only 51 students. . . This [Grand Staircase/Escalante} Monument has not been good for Escalante. “Our number one export is our children.”  Noel then went on to unload “twenty years of frustration” regarding GSENM. “Planet of the Apes was filmed in that barren wasteland…that is where the coal is, in that wasteland.” Noel emphasized that the BLM was created in 1934 to maintain rangeland, which is not being maintained. “The Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument was put in place by special interest groups to control and tie up natural resources. . . Utah’s coal is in that monument.”

Sterling Brown, Utah’s Farm Bureau, also testified in support. He explained how in the past rural families have learned to adapt and adjust to changing weather patterns, and even marketing changes, but that today the Tsunami wave of regulations is taking the family ranch (or farm) out of production.  Those waves have decimated a community. “The best Government is the government closest to the ground.”

Matt Anderson of Sutherland Institute discussed the false premise promoted by Headwaters Economics, that Monuments help communities. Variables in the surveys were not accurate, such as income level.  “Often rich people move into Monument areas”, and the wealth they bring with them paints a deceptive picture as far as county median income.  A study by USU shows that in the 20 years of existence, grazing has declined at Grand Staircase by 1/3 even though promises were made that it would stay at historical levels, promises were not kept. Wood gathering at Natural Bridges NM does not allow wood harvesting. “A strong economy is a diverse economy,” he emphasized.  All industry and business needs to be included to make that happen: logging, tourism, grazing, mineral extraction. Multiple use can benefit all businesses and people living in an area.

Rep. Noel wrapped up the session saying “If you have the responsibility of stewardship over a piece of ground you actually have to be a steward, and be on the land and be looking at things.  We [Utahans] have the ability to make things better than what we found them, and we have.”

The motion was approved 6-2.

Janet Keeler Wilcox is a retired school teacher and was co-founder of Blue Mountain Shadows, a regional history magazine. Her blog Beyond the Bears Ears keeps a running update of articles and events related to land issues, specifically those in San Juan County.  She was raised on a dry farm near Ririe, Idaho. She’s a life-long conservationist.


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  1. I was not aware the Constitution had been amended to allow federal ownership of more land than specified in Article 1, Section 8. Unless it HAS been amended, this and other ‘monuments’ and ‘parks’, without the consent of the State in question, are illegal.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I think it good to repeat the words of Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. “Congress shall have the power…to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful building.”

      Thus, the federal government has the right of exclusive legislation over 1) what has become the District of Columbia and 2) over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be. The exclusive jurisdiction noted in item two shall be for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful building.

      It is a principle of Anglo-American law that where purposes are explicitly enumerated (such as for forts, magazines, arsenals, etc.) all other rights are retained by the party which has granted such uses.

      The Constitution is silent on the rights of the US Government to even acquire additional territory, either by purchase (such as Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase), by conquest (such as territory gained through wars with Mexico or Spain) or by theft (such as territory requisitioned from sovereign nations of original Americans (Indian tribes). If the US Government does acquire territory by such means, it does so as the agent of the various states of the Union, not in its own right nor for its own purposes. The US Government was conceived as a servant of the States, not as their master.

      Therefore, if the US Government acquires territory, it holds that territory in trust for the existing States in the Union. If later the States agree through the agency of the US Government to create additional sovereign States, such additional sovereign States inherit the rights of the States which owned its territory, the rights enumerated in the US Constitution, including Article 1, Section 8, unless such rights are explicitly withheld when granted statehood. That is, the States hold ownership of acquired territory. Such ownership held is merely in trust by the federal government. When a new State is created and admitted to the Union, full rights of ownership transfer to that new State. Otherwise, and newly created State enters the Union in an inferior status to existing states, an outcome no one has ever proposed.

  2. Both the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears National Monuments were Created by Presidents Clinton and Obama because Utahan’s did not support or vote for either president, so it was payback time!

    Designating this land a National Monument Severely Restricts the usage of this land in Multiple ways for “We the People”!

    This is the People’s Land, and we should be the ones who get to decide how it is used.

    I’m not talking about privatizing it, I’m talking about being fair for All to use, hiking, fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities including grazing rights for Ranchers etc.

    The Excessive Acreage is also Totally Outrageous, and Way Over the Top!

    I’m getting tired of City Slicker politicians from the East and West coasts deciding on what’s best for Utah!

    Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Citizens need to get involved now and desolve Both monuments!

    This is ANOTHER Perfect example of Excessive Government Overreach! The Federal Government does not Own this Land! We the People do!

    Supporters of the Finnicum and Bundy families and ALL other citizens who find this issue extremely important to resend, should get involved with this as well!

    Let’s get it done, and also prevent other areas from having the same kind of designation Before it can Even Occur!

    Again, I’m not talking about privatizing this land, the State of Utah and its people are perfectly capable of running and maintaining this land . In fact I believe there should be no Federal Land in the State of Utah at all!

    I’m merely saying it should be multiple use and not have the Outrageous Restrictions placed on it such as a National Park or Monument does. Seems like the Feds always jump to Utah First when it comes to grabbing land and designating it whatever the hell they want to, and restricting us… “We the People” on how the land can or can’t be used.

    Make contact with all Utah Congressmen, Senators and Governor Gary Herbert and let them know your feelings on this issue.

    I have attempted to make this post very simple and not get into different articles of the Constitution etc. But you can do some homework and see exactly what I’m referring to here.

    May even get to the point where an on-site Peaceful Protest needs to happen very soon!!

    1. Dear Governor Gary Herbert,
      This note is from Louise Liston, who was a very good friend during our commission days. I have fought for years trying to keep our land out of federal ownership. It is about time to see what can be done. We hope you will help us in our endeavors. Sincerely,
      Louise & Robert Liston
      Escalante, Ut. 84726

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