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Utah Lawmaker Wants The State To Be Excluded From Future National Monument Designations

A Utah lawmaker wants to send a message to Washington. That message? Exclude the state of Utah from future national monument designations. 

Grand County Republican Rep. Carl Abrecht says the Bears Ears and Grande Staircase Escalante National Monuments are too big, and cover lands unworthy of conservation status.     

"If you've ever walked the ground in either one of those monuments, there's a whole lot of sage brush, and there's a whole lot of pinon and juniper, and that doesn't need to be protected," he said.

Albrecht's solution? Exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act.

"So my resolution just simply states exempt Utah," he said. "Let's quit kicking this football back from one administration to another. Let's exempt Utah, and if we want a new monument, we want a new park, let's work from the ground up instead of the top down."

Albrecht's House Joint Resolution 1 encourages congress to pass legislation exempting Utah from the 1906 Act that allows the president to set lands aside. Exempting a state is something that's been done before. Monument Designations in both Wyoming and Alaska currently have to be approved by congress, though when those exemptions were put into place, they came in tandem with large scale conservation efforts. 

For Utah Sierra Club Executive Director Ashley Soltysiak, the Antiquities Act remains a vital conservation tool, and Albrecht's bill is a step backward.

"For preservation and protection of public lands this bill just goes completely in the wrong direction," she said. "We have amazing public lands and the Antiquities Act provides a tool for the president to be able to designate those as protected areas. And if we take away that tool then we are potentially damning these lands for future generations."

Soltysiak says that both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, as they were originally designated, were not too large. In fact, they could've been bigger. 

"In the case of Bears Ears in particular, the five tribes that have come together to push for that monument designation actually wanted an area that was significantly larger," she said. "There are a number of historical and sacred archeological sites, there are amazing habitats that are incredibly important, wildlife corridors, and beautiful places that need to be preserved for recreational purposes and for their own intrinsic value."

Albrecht's resolution is still awaiting assignment to committee for a first hearing, but he says he's cautiously optimistic about its chances. 

"We'll see how it goes. If the governor signs it... if it passes and the governor signs it then it'll go to our delegation," he said.