The monument could be designated without Congressional approval or public input through the Antiquities Act. The same course was used near San Juan County in the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument in adjacent Garfield and Kane counties and in the 1999 designation of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in adjacent Montezuma and Dolores counties in Colorado.
While federal officials downplayed the document and stated that it is just a “draft memo”, the response was strong among Congressional, state and local officials.
“I am shocked and outraged,” wrote Utah Senator Robert Bennett, in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, “that, given the past history with the manner in which the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, this administration would begin taking the same reckless steps.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert reported that during a weekend meeting with Salazar, he was assured that the federal government is not moving forward on any plans to designate national monuments. Herbert said he is confident that the administration will not make a designation without consulting with elected officials and other groups.
San Juan County Commissioners said that they prefer to move ahead with a legislative approach for public lands issues in San Juan County.
The bipartisan Washington County Growth and Conservation Act, which focused on areas of concern on federal land in the St. George area, is being used as a model for the development of a similar proposal in San Juan County.
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams said the county is trying to “fast track” the development of a draft San Juan County Land Bill, similar to the Washington County bill. “We fully expect to come to the table, with those who want to come to the table, with our proposal.”
Adams added, “We understand the desire for some protection on Cedar Mesa, but we have an obligation to consult with the citizens who live here and who also use the land. Everyone will have a chance for input into our proposal.”
Commissioner Lynn Stevens added, “A better way is to go through a reasoned process rather than a national monument designation. No way in the world do we need a national monument with artificially-set boundaries.”
“Who will determine the boundaries?” asked Stevens. “A designation could consume every acre from Comb Ridge to Lake Powell and from Highway 95 to the San Juan River.”
“I find it concerning that the administration stops a resource management planning process that has gone on for more than seven years because of a lack of public process and then moves ahead with an idea of a national monument with no public process. Then they want us to trust them.”
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy expressed concern about the impact of a national monument on the Native American communities. Maryboy said the Cedar Mesa area has a number of sacred sites and added that residents would be “outraged if these areas are not accessible.”
Brooke Williams, with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said that the memo was a leaked document and not policy. He simply asked if the county and SUWA are “still on the same page in regards to process”, referring to the Land Bill proposal.
The Department of the Interior document, entitled “Prospective Conservation Designation: National Monument Designations under the Antiquities Act”, identifies 14 areas in western states that could be considered for designation.
Of the Cedar Mesa region, the document states:
“For more than 12,000 years, generations of families from Paleo-Indian big game hunters to Mormon settlers traveled to the area now within southeastern Utah’s Cedar Mesa region.
“Their stories are now buried among the area’s estimated hundreds of thousands of prehistoric and historic sites. Cedar Mesa also contains thousands of largely intact cliff dwellings and open-air sites built between A.D. 750 and 1300 by later prehistoric farmers known as Ancestoral Puebloans or Anasazi.”
Other areas designated include the San Rafael Swell area in Emery County and locations in New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Montana, Colorado and Arizona.