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Front Page » February 21, 2002 » Opinion » Questions San Rafael monument proposal
Published 4,439 days ago

Questions San Rafael monument proposal


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By BRIAN HAWTHORNE
Utah Shared Access Alliance

Believe it or not, I'm a big fan of the Antiquities Act.

Realizing in 1906 that the United States Congress was sometimes slow and imprecise when doing certain things, federal lawmakers delegated a portion of their authority over public lands to the president.

The action gave the president the ability to protect objects of historic or scientific importance that were in some sort of eminent danger. Probably sounded reasonable then and it still does, at least to me.

So, why am I opposed to Gov. Mike Leavitt's proposed new San Rafael National Monument? Because it goes far beyond what Congress authorized a president to do in designating a national monument.

The Antiquities Act was narrowly written in terms of what a president call do and in terms of how it must be done.

The limitations are particularly important because the U.S. Constitution gave Congress exclusive power over public lands.

Without the specific limitations, the Antiquities Act would have been unconstitutional.

Congress cannot simply delegate to the president all of its responsibility regarding public lands unless it violates the Delegation Doctrine.

That is why, although a fan of the Antiquities Act, I was outraged when President Bill Clinton stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and declared that 17 million acres of Utah was needed to protect various objects of scientific importance.

Everyone, including Clinton's staff, knew it wasn't true, that the objects were not really endangered.

Later, it was revealed that the whole thing was nothing more than a political stunt done in an election year to curry political favor with voters in California, Arizona and Colorado.

Political stunts in and of themselves aren't necessarily outrageous or illegal. They happen all the time.

Presidents aren't the only politicians who make announcements of grand public works projects at politically convenient times and locations. It's the American way,.

The reason the political stunt was so outrageous was that it was an obvious abuse of the letter and intent of the law. Made all the more outrageous to Utahns because we have seen the manipulation of our pubic lands for political gain before, and we don't like it.

The small communities and unique culture that exist in our rural areas are important to us.

We must have management that strikes the proper balance between protection and conservation with access to and use of resources.

Sticking to the letter and intent of public land management law is vital to a state that is more than two-thirds federal land.

Without the strong adherence to laws and regulations, our lives and livelihoods suffer at the whims of politicians too far removed from the unique circumstances and changing conditions of the lands they rule.

This is exactly the problem that the elected leaders of Emery County face today.

The constant threat of excessive wilderness designation, restrictive policies and abuses of agenda driven bureaucrats are threatening the character of their communities.

Emery County's culture, no less unique or valuable as any other, is at risk. In desperation, local officials have asked for monument designation.

I sympathize with Emery County and rural communities all over the west. The threat is real in Utah.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is in the process of nearly doubling the amount of wilderness study areas and is under pressure to drastically reduce grazing and oil and gas development.

Wilderness advocacy groups have announced the intent end all logging, grazing, oil and gas development and any other human use of public lands

Developed recreation will not escape and, of course, those nasty off-highway vehicles have got to go.

This is why sticking to the letter and intent of public land law is so important to Utah.

Significant and fundamental questions must be answered before the governor's proposal moves forward.

The Antiquities Act does not authorize a president to reserve land as a national monument simply for the sake of changing an existing management plan, even if the local resident request that he do so.

The federal act only authorizes the withdrawal of land "the limits of which, in all cases, shall be confirmed to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."

While the shared access alliance members acknowledge there probably are some objects of historic and scientific interest that may justify monument designation in the Swell, no credible case can be made that more than 620,000 acres is needed for the protection of the objects.

The Antiquities Act, or any law for that matter, should not be abused for any reason no matter how noble the cause.

The BLM has already started a process to completely replace the management plan for the entire region. Let's not shortcut that legal and deliberative process.

I am a big fan of the Antiquities Act, but I am even more committed to our elected officials abiding by the spirit and the letter of the laws they are elected to make and execute. What Emery County and the people of Utah need is a strong voice in how public lands are managed. The San Rafael proposal is not the way to accomplish that goal. Let's do it the right way.

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