Cooperation and public involvement beat executive fiat every time. One gets all stakeholders involved in solutions. The other breeds resentment and makes people feel powerless.
The problem with a movement by some liberal senators in Washington to urge President Obama to summarily declare another wide swath of Utah as a monument is not that parts of the area in question are not worth protecting. It is that such a thing would scuttle a collaborative process underway and deepen the gulf dividing many in Utah from the federal government.
Fourteen senators, mostly from places far from Utah, signed a letter to President Obama last week urging him to create a Greater Canyonlands national monument, effectively expanding the existing Canyonlands National Park. They called the larger area “an ecological cornerstone of the American West” and noted it was home to seven fragile species and the ancestral grounds of native tribes.
The letters reads as if people in Utah had never considered such things or were unaware of their existence. Quite the opposite is true, but there is much more to the story.
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop has begun a collaborative effort called the Public Lands Initiative, which is designed to reconcile the many issues involving the Canyonlands area, including endangered species and Native American concerns.
Bishop’s initiative also involves recreational clubs, ranchers, bikers, local and state elected officials and the BLM. It will consider the energy and mineral potential of the land, including its use for renewable energy, as well as the fragile economies of struggling small communities. And it all will go for naught if the president decides to wield the extraordinary power granted him by the Antiquities Act, a 108-year-old law that grants presidents the power to designate monuments.
Those who live here understand that Utah, one of the nation’s fastest growing states, is in a constant tug-of-war among competing interests, including the need to preserve unique natural beauty, maintain a vibrant economy, shore up tourism and provide for recreation. Utah’s landscape contains some of the nation’s best natural resources that are vital to energy and mineral industries.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have chosen perhaps the only effective way to bring home these concepts to those who would treat Utah as if it were a vehicle for quick political gain. Chaffetz recently hosted Maryland Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, showing him around Utah and giving him an appreciation for the concerns of importance here. For his part, Herbert has reached out to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., one of the signatories to the letter to the president, and invited him to visit, as well.
Whether that invitation is accepted remains to be seen. If politics is the chief motivation, we doubt much of anything would change the minds of the 14. The Republicans in Utah’s congressional delegation also have sent a letter to the president expressing concerns. Herbert once received assurances from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the administration would not create such a monument.
Only time will tell whether the president is wise enough to shun the path President Bill Clinton took in creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. Such things may play well among some in Washington, but they have profoundly negative effects on the very meaning of representative government in this end of the country.