Governor Gary Herbert told reporters today at his monthly news conference that he plans to sign the resolution against creating a Bears Ears National Monument. He also indicated he will continue working with the Obama Administration on the issue.
The governor also signed a bill restoring $4.7 million in education funding from items he vetoed earlier in the session. Herbert agreed to convene a special session and restore the funding to avoid a veto override session that the Legislature was poised to call.
The money was earmarked for early reading programs and a high school cooking competition.
The monument resolution is nonbinding and designed to express the will of the Legislature and the governor on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.
Herbert said Thursday that he prefers the approach in the Public Lands Initiative proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop that would designate 1.2 million acres as a national conservation area, which would impose fewer protections for the land. It would also create designations for more than 16 million acres of federal land across the state.
“There really is a desire to find a resolution to this public lands conflict, and the Bears Ears is just one part of it,” Herbert said Thursday during his monthly KUED news conference. “The Bears Ears butte, I think, our native brothers and sisters would agree there needs to be some conservation, some protection there. The question is really what is the best vehicle to do that? And there is division on that even amongst the Indians.”
Herbert said the conservation area would give the American Indian people more access to the land and not attract millions of tourists to an area sacred to the tribes.
“That’s why I will sign the resolution, because I think it addresses the Native American issues better, and another 16 million acres is addressed better, also,” the governor said.
Democrats who opposed the resolution said that prodding the Obama administration would just make it more likely that the president will declare the monument.
“I don’t think it’s going to jeopardize anything we’re doing in discussion with the president and his administration,” Herbert said.
The governor said he has been told the president, Vice President Joe Biden, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others do not plan to impose a sweeping, unilateral monument designation on the area, and “I [expect] President Obama and his team are not going to do that.”