- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal officials have promised that President Barack Obama won’t surprise Utah by creating a new national monument in the state, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday.

Herbert, speaking at his monthly televised news conference on KUED, said he received the assurance from U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell while he was visiting Washington, D.C., last week.

Jewell told the governor that week that a monument protecting Utah’s greater Canyonlands region is not imminent, and Utah would be notified it if was.

“They’re not going to do the Bill Clinton stealth approach,” Herbert said.

President Bill Clinton’s 1996 designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah is something that still draws the ire of Utah residents and politicians.

Local leaders have complained they weren’t consulted and the designation, which protected nearly 2 million acres, closed off that land to any development of coal reserves underground.

Democratic U.S. senators, the outdoor recreation industry and environmentalists have been among the groups urging Obama to use the same presidential fiat to designate a monument surrounding Canyonlands National Park near Moab.

They want to keep the canyons, mesa tops and other eastern Utah landmarks free from development.

But the Obama administration has agreed to hold off and see how Congress acts to protect lands, Herbert said.

One effort they’re watching closely is a comprehensive plan by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to set aside Utah lands for protection, energy development, recreation and other uses.

Bishop and others have held more than 500 meetings with local counties, environmentalists, energy developers and others to find a master solution that satisfies as many people as possible.

“We think this is a good approach and they seem to embrace that,” Herbert said.

Herbert said he expects the plan will appear as legislation in Congress within the next year.

That master plan may be just one step Utah takes to solve its public land disputes with the federal government, Herbert said.

The governor signed a law in 2012 demanding the U.S. hand over control of vast swaths of land by next year.

Herbert and GOP legislators argue local officials would be better managers than the U.S. Forest Service or federal Bureau of Land Management.

A possible lawsuit to seek that control is still in the cards, Herbert said Wednesday, though he considers it “the fallback position.”

Besides his meeting with Jewell last week, Herbert met with administration officials to discuss education and Medicaid expansion. He also traveled to New York City, where he visited the Sept. 11 memorial and later met with Fox News Channel executives to discuss opportunities to appear on the network more frequently.


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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