- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A proposed national monument in the Bears Ears area of southeastern Utah will close off the area and block tribal members from using the land, said Gov. Gary Herbert, Republican lawmakers and about two dozen members of American Indian tribes.

The group held a news conference Tuesday afternoon on the steps of Utah’s Capitol in Salt Lake City. The news conference came a day before lawmakers were set to gather in a special session to pass a resolution trumpeting their opposition to the proposed monument.

Marie S. Holiday, who is from the Oljato Chapter of the Navajo Nation near Monument Valley, said native people gather firewood and pinyon nuts from Bears Ears. “If that becomes a national monument, I know there’s going to be a restriction and we’d have to go somewhere else. That’s about 80 to maybe more than 100 miles away for our people,” she said.

Other tribal members and conservation groups say the proposed 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument is needed to protect the land from damage by off-road vehicles and looting. They’re pushing for President Barack Obama to use his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare the monument.

Obama has not said if he will do so.

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

They harken back to President Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, which was made over the objections of locals. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said that monument closed off the area to movie filming and other industrial uses.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which is pushing for the new monument, says its proposal would allow Native Americans to continue traditional uses of the land such as gathering wood and herbs.

The governor said Tuesday that Utah wants to balance development on the land while protecting pristine spaces, but that would be closed off if a monument is declared.

“I’m honored to be standing here with my Navajo brothers and sisters as we stand together in opposition to a national monument,” Herbert said.

He said Obama and other top administration officials had assured him that they would not do anything without local input.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is set to visit Utah later this summer, where she’s expected to hear from locals about proposals to further protect lands in the state, according to the Interior Department.

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