(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Canyon Rims area
just north of U-111 is an area up for consideration for
inclusion into an expanded Canyonlands National Park.
La Sal Mountain range lies far to the east.
By Thomas Burr The Salt Lake Tribune First Published May 02 2014 – Last Updated May 05 2014
Washington » Just south of Canyonlands National Park, the redrock wonders merge into a scrubland oasis with a peak that juts 11,000 feet into the sky. Mesas and buttes provide panoramic views and canyons, and ancient cliff dwellings offer a unique retreat.
It’s a region that holds sacred and historic value to the Navajo Nation, which has pitched Congress on creating the Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area to protect the 1.9 million acres in San Juan County from development. But as with most things involving Congress, inaction has been the order of the day.
Even as supporters of a conservation area remain hopeful, they’re ready for Plan B: Asking President Barack Obama for a national monument.
Willie Grayeyes, and other members of the nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah, traveled recently to Washington to lobby Interior Department officials to designate the region north of the San Juan River and just outside the Navajo Reservation as a monument.
“The Utah delegates are only fumbling the ball. They aren’t really tackling it,” Grayeyes said. A monument is a logical fallback to congressional designation, under which many of the current uses could continue.
Obama already has named a handful of monuments across the country — using his unilateral power under the 1906 Antiquities Act — and has promised more.
“I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations,” he said in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
That commitment has some in the West fearing more intrusion by the federal government into their backyard, undermining locally driven efforts to decide the future of public lands. That fear isn’t without precedent.
“It makes me worried that [the president will] just ignore the wishes of the people of Utah and just do what he wants to — like Clinton did,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a recent Salt Lake Tribune interview. “Sometimes he does act unilaterally.”