Question: What do you think of 1.9 million acres?
Answer: It’s big; it’s huge. Yosemite National Park, a crown jewel of the national park system, is only 1.3 million acres. So this would be that much bigger than that.
I was up on top of the East Bears Ear this morning. To the north, basically everything we could see would be within the new monument. To the south, almost everything you could see would be within the monument.
That is an enormous area. All this would be put under discretionary control of people who are a couple of thousands of miles away from here. That is concerning.
Q: You will sponsor the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) legislation when it gets to the Senate. Can you talk about the Senate perspective of the PLI?
A: We are doing our best to put together a coalition that can support this. The action is likely to happen first in the House of Representatives. We are watching that closely and working closely with Congressman Bishop and Congressman Chaffetz.
Q: This is public land, which is owned by the federal government. However, there is significant local concern. How do you balance the local concerns with the national interest of people who may extend far beyond San Juan County?
Answer: I understand that people who are outside of San Juan County, people outside of Utah, outside of the western United States, might have an interest in this land. But it is not the same. It can’t be weighted the same.
People who live here, who are close to this, who will be affected by a national monument designation and by the rules that will be developed over the next few years, they will be much more directly affected.
And this is one reason I applaud the Obama administration for having the policy that they have adhered to so far, quite consistently as far as I can tell, that they have not used the Antiquities Act to designate a monument without widespread support of locals and buy-in from local officials. You do not have that here.
Q: And you are here to measure local buy-in?
A: That’s right. We are here to measure local buy-in, hear concerns, and hear arguments on both sides.
Q: The PLI process takes time. Do we have enough time before the end of the current sessions?
A: Sure, there is no reason why it couldn’t get done this year. And I would add to that that there is no reason why we have to rush the process.
The reason why a national monument designation can move faster than Congress is not exactly a reason to go the monument route rather than through Congress. When you run it through Congress, you have the opportunity to vet it to the people’s elected representatives.
And I think that’s important to do, especially when you talk about designating a monument that is nearly two million acres. That is an enormous amount of land. I think Congress should have a say in that.
Q: When you look at the PLI over the seven counties in eastern Utah, the proposals for the other six counties are largely intact. San Juan County fears that their proposal, their input, has been overshadowed by the Bears Ears process. The PLI recommendation has changed more in San Juan County than in other areas. Can you speak about that?
A: There is no question that talk of a possible national monument designation has had an impact on the PLI. And it makes sense that it would have a particularly acute impact on the part of PLI that deals with San Juan County. One of the things that has given momentum to the PLI is that very discussion.