- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - State lawmakers who oppose a new national monument in southern Utah questioned Wednesday whether American Indian people support the idea and called for an investigation.

State Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said he believes the group advocating for the proposed 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument doesn’t represent the Navajo people in the area. Noel questioned if environmental groups were driving the push, rather than tribal members.

Navajo Nation lawmaker Davis Filfred, who is a member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, said it was insulting to suggest that the sovereign tribal nations were being manipulated by environmental groups.

“We speak for ourselves and our tribal members who have overwhelmingly called on us to make sure Bears Ears becomes a national monument,” Filfred said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers and local officials are fiercely opposed to the proposed monument, saying it’s overly broad and will hurt local economies and prevent American Indian elders from going there for cultural reasons such as hunting.

The long-rumored concept gained new urgency when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently announced plans to visit Utah later this year.

Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw did not comment on whether a monument might be declared but said in a statement that Jewell will stop in Utah to hear from locals about proposals to further protect lands in the state.

Noel and the rest of Utah’s Constitutional Defense Council voted Wednesday to urge the governor and attorney general’s office to investigate those supporting and opposing the monument and where they receive money for the effort.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday if Utah will investigate.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s spokesman Jon Cox said in an email that the governor believes there should be transparency and his office is asking the Utah attorney general how best to address the questions raised Wednesday.

Dan Burton, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, declined to comment on whether there would be an investigation.

At the Constitutional Defense Council’s meeting Wednesday, Noel originally called for an investigation just to the pro-monument organization.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he couldn’t support a one-sided inquiry and that some feel coal companies and energy groups are working to oppose the monument because they want access to the land.

“I don’t have any opposition to transparency,” King said. “But I think it ought to be even-handed and I think it ought not be a witch hunt.”

Noel then asked the council to encourage the governor and attorney general to look into both sides and report their findings to the Legislature. The council unanimously supported the vote.

The council issues recommendations to state officials about legal battles with the federal government over issues such as control of public land and rural county roads.

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