- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s Republican-dominated Legislature trumpeted its opposition Wednesday to a possible national monument in the Bears Ears area of southeastern Utah.

Lawmakers passed a purely symbolic resolution decrying the proposal while they were meeting in a late afternoon special session that lasted several hours. Legislators were meeting anyway to restore funds to several education programs that the governor nixed in March, but they decided to tack on the resolution as they increasingly worry the area will be swept into federal protections.

If President Barack Obama uses his authority under a 1906 law to protect the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears area, Utah officials say the area will be closed off to development, local economies will suffer and some American Indian tribal elders will be blocked from using the land for cultural reasons.

Supporters of the monument say the protection is needed to stave off damage from off-road vehicles and looting.

Obama has not said if he’ll use his power under the Antiquities Act to protect the area before he leaves office, but state lawmakers treated it like a foregone conclusion Wednesday.

“He’s exhibited a wanton disregard for the rights and jurisdictions of the states,” Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan. “My perdition is we’re going to see this monument. We’re going to see other monuments before this president is out of office.”

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio weighed in on the issue this week, using posts on Facebook and Instagram to express his support for the monument.

DiCaprio’s posts on social media on Tuesday night urged people to sign an online petition in favor of the monument.

Republican lawmakers said the proposal is overly broad and questioned whether Obama even had the legal authority to declare the monument.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said the monument would be twice the size of Rhode Island.

At one point, lawmakers changed the resolution to ask the attorney general to investigate the “alleged authority,” of the president to declare a monument, but GOP leaders decided to strip the word “alleged,” saying that shouldn’t be the focus of their statement.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, noted that past presidents used the Antiquities Act to declare other monuments over the consternation of locals that later became Grand Teton and Grand Canyon national parks. “I think most people, if not everyone in this chamber, would say it’s a great thing that they were designated,” King said.

About an hour before the special session, representatives from several American Indian tribes pushing for the monument and conservation groups held a rally in the capitol. The group sold T-shirts and stickers urging the protection of Bears Ears.

Mark Maryboy of the Utah Diné Bikéyah, a five-tribe group pushing for preservation, pushed back on claims from Utah officials that Native Americans are divided on the proposal. He held up letters from the Navajo Nation, Hopi and other tribes all asking Obama to protect Bears Ears.

Now that the anti-monument resolution has the Legislature’s stamp of approval, it goes to Gov. Gary Herbert, who is expected to sign it.

Herbert says Obama administration officials have assured him they won’t act 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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