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Alarm is building among Utah opponents of a new national monument designation with President Barack Obama's announcement of three new preserves Friday.
The president's use of the Antiquities Act including setting aside the 704,000-acre Basin and Range monument in south-central Nevada for conservation sparked a backlash from Utah's Republican members of Congress.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, blasted Obama's use of the executive prerogative as a gesture of disdain to Congress and the people of Nevada, California and Texas.
"This surreptitious land grab reveals that the Obama Administration will stop at nothing to lock up more and more land, with the stroke of a pen," Bishop said in a statement. "I condemn this shameful power move, which makes states and citizens fearful that the federal government can invade at any time to seize more lands like bandits in the night."
In addition to Basin and Range, the president added California's Berryessa Snow Mountain and Texas' Waco Mammoth to the National Conservation Landscape System. During his time in office, he has used the Antiquities Act 19 times to establish or expand national monuments including 11 now in Western states totaling 2.1 million acres.
The president said Friday he has involved local communities in each of his monument designations.
"One of the wonderful things about our use of the Antiquities Act is we've had the opportunity to engage local communities consistently throughout this process businesses, residents, people who are profoundly attached to the land," Obama said. "And as a consequence, the local communities have huge buy-in to these things and are absolutely confident that not only is it going to be a real economic spur in these areas, but it's also going to be able to preserve everything that they love about the places where they live."
New monuments now rim Arizona and Utah two states where there is widespread opposition to new monuments and many observers suspect Obama may designate large monuments somewhere on the Colorado Plateau before he leaves office. Possibilities include the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon and the Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa in Utah's San Juan County.
In anticipation of the designation in Nevada cast by some as a parting gift to outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada's senior senator the House on Wednesday passed a spending amendment that would block monument designations in 17 Western counties, including Utah's Wayne, Garfield and Kane counties.
Conservationists applauded Obama's latest action.
"He has continued to add to our nation's outdoor legacy. By designating these new monuments, President Obama has ensured that these beautiful, historic landscapes will continue to benefit local communities for generations to come," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "It's really welcoming to see President Obama once again reward the efforts of the hundreds of people over the years who have given their passion, time and toil to protecting our public lands."