- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A land swap for 109,000 acres of state school trust land within the newly created Bears Ears National Monument won’t happen before President Barack Obama leaves office and is on indefinite hold, federal and state officials said this week.

The presidential proclamation creating the monument on Dec. 28 set Thursday as a deadline for a progress report to Obama on the land exchange.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell conceded in a letter sent Wednesday to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the White House that president-elect Donald Trump’s administration will have to carry out the exchange.

She says her staff made significant progress toward a framework for the land exchange with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration last fall.

But that organization’s board recently voted not to take any action because it wants to wait and see if Utah’s congressional delegation can reverse the designation.

“It is unfortunate that, due to this vote, the department is now unable to memorialize the work that had been done by our teams,” Jewell wrote. “I have great confidence, however, that these efforts will be carried forward by the next administration.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the state’s congressional delegation led by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have been outspoken critics of a designation they contend would add another layer of unnecessary federal control. They have vowed to work in Congress and with Trump to try and repeal or reduce the monument.

Trump has not publicly commented on how he views Bears Ears but his nominee to replace Jewell as Interior secretary, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, pledged this week during a confirmation hearing to work with members of Congress on proposed national monuments such as the Bears Ears. Zinke also said he’s worried about the “funding mechanism” for the schools that was “taken away” with the monument designation.

Rather than move forward with figuring out the land exchange in anticipation the monument will stand as hundreds of others have before this one, the board decided there’s too much uncertainty to make that worthwhile, said Kim Christy, deputy director of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

The board says it will further study the issue, but no new meetings are scheduled to discuss the matter, he said.

“With such a short turnaround time to address such a complicated exchange of that magnitude, our board felt the information was insufficient to accomplish it,” said Christy, while adding, “It doesn’t mean the door is closed.”

Jewell’s letter reveals that her staff held two meetings with Utah officials in September and October to discuss the land exchange even though the monument wasn’t designated until late December. Those meetings were prompted by a proposal introduced in Congress last summer by Utah politicians that also would have engulfed the trust lands within protections around Bears Ears.

That bill never went anywhere and instead President Obama designated the 1.35-million-acre monument in the Four Corners region on lands considered sacred to a coalition of tribes despite objections from Utah Republican leaders and rural residents.

The trust land is in two different chunks within the monument and includes land that is used for grazing, cellphone towers and oil and gas leases - all of which brings in revenues that help fund Utah’s public education system, Christy said. He said he doesn’t know how much revenue is generated on the 109,000 acres.

The trust has generated $1.7 billion in revenue in the last two decades, sending $320 million to schools from interest and dividends, according to agency figures.

Jewell said in the letter the land exchange would benefit all by giving Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration other lands that would generate revenue for schools while preserving lands within the monument that include thousands of archaeological sites.

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