- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch on Tuesday kicked off a weeklong tour of the five national parks in Utah that includes a stop at a site involved in a controversial proposal to name a new national monument.

Hatch is using the tour to highlight tourism, meet with park managers and walk trails in Zion National Park. He and Gov. Gary Herbert plan to meet Thursday with officials in the Bears Ears area to discuss the possible designation of the monument by President Obama.

Hatch has been joined by other Republican lawmakers and local officials who say wrapping the Bears Ears area in permanent monument protections would hurt local economies by closing the area to development.

Hatch, speaking at the state tourism office Tuesday, said national parks highlight the state’s natural beauty and drive its booming tourism industry, but he doesn’t believe a new monument in southern Utah will reap similar benefits.

People living in nearby rural areas need to be able to make money off the land, he said, noting that money spent by visitors to the area won’t be enough.

“They don’t have any other benefits other than the land,” Hatch said. “Some of them do have a tourism benefit, but that doesn’t keep them going.”

Tribal members and conservation groups have urged Obama to use his authority under a 1906 law to create a 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. They argue the protections are needed to limit damage by off-road vehicles and looting.

Obama has not said if he’ll designate the monument, but Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is set to visit the state later this year to discuss proposals to further protect lands.

Hatch said he believes the White House is giving Utah officials time to work on an alternate conservation proposal from two Utah congressmen intended to balance protections and development.

“We think we can get that done in a way that’s beneficial to Utah, beneficial to the country, and will solve a lot of yelling and screaming,” Hatch said.

Leaders of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which is pushing for the new monument, said they stopped meeting with Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz over the alternate plan because their concerns weren’t taken seriously.

The public lands plan from Bishop and Chaffetz proposes a smaller conservation area where local and state officials would have significant input on how the land is managed and the federal government would not be able to upend the deal.

The plan has not yet been formally introduced in Congress.

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