“Welcome to Utah, Mr. President. Thank you.” That’s what I said when the president of the United States came to the Beehive State to remedy one of the largest abuses of power foisted upon Utah.
Just days after Christmas last year, President Obama stepped away from his vacation in Hawaii long enough to sign a piece of paper that locked up 1.35 million Utah acres. By signing that executive order, Obama was telling Utahns they weren’t smart enough to live their own lives.
President Clinton delivered the same message to Utahns in 1996. Then, Clinton snatched 1.7 million Utah acres when he signed his own executive order while posing for a photo at a desk overlooking the Grand Canyon.
Abuses of the Antiquities Act have increased as politically motivated presidents sought to fabricate a legacy of conservation. These declarations grabbed headlines by grabbing land. The victims of these abuses are real people, and that’s not right.
We now have an administration that understands the importance of allowing local people to have a say. They know and love these lands more than anyone else. They depend on the land for their livelihoods.
This administration has indicated a willingness to right the wrongs of the past and to safeguard Utah’s future. This new attitude, together with legislation from Congress, can protect Utah’s public lands from being used as political props.
It is time to seize this opportunity and reassert the importance of transparency, local input and the proper stewardship of public lands.
There must be transparency to see through out-of-state efforts conjured in West Coast board rooms to exploit native Utahns. Special-interest groups would have you believe there was widespread support for Obama’s monument declaration. The truth is that the most local of native Utahns we’re screaming no. Unfortunately, the well-funded squeaky wheel got the grease, and the locals got left out of the process.
I want to thank this administration for finally listening to the elected county commissioners, state representatives, state senators and tribal leaders. To silence their voices by ignoring them is wrong. The Obama administration ignored them. I am grateful the Trump administration decided to listen.
Public lands must be managed with the input and consent of people who live in these areas, people whose livelihoods are dependent on the proper care of these sacred and valuable lands. Their power to manage must not be limited to just a voice at the table, they must also have a vote.
Regarding tribal participation, Obama’s executive fiat merely provided a suggestion box. With legislation and the signature of President Trump, tribal interests can have an authoritative position with which to manage their sacred and historic lands.
Not only can the lands now be protected with authority, but so too can the antiquities left behind by those who came before us. For that is the original intent of the Antiquities Act.
The time for certainty is long overdue. We are now positioned to put a framework in place that will give people the peace of mind that comes from predictable and proper management. For too long, Utahns have had to live in fear that the changing tide of politics could upend their lives.
I am pleased with the courage shown by this administration to take a bold step toward righting the wrongs of the past, and I am committed to the legislative efforts required to safeguard the future.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop represents Utah's 1st District and serves as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.