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Washington • The head of the U.S. Interior Department says there is no Plan B in place if Utah officials, environmentalists and Congress aren't able to strike a deal to protect land in the eastern and southern part of the state but adds that she would like to see a plan in writing soon.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday that all eyes are on the effort to craft the Public Lands Initiative by Utah Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and more details need to be forthcoming.
"There is certainly an effort on their part to push that through, and that's what we're working with them on at this point in time," Jewell said at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. "I'm not going to suggest that there is any kind of firm plan if their plan doesn't work. We need to see a plan."
Asked if President Barack Obama would name a new national monument in Utah if the Bishop and Chaffetz effort fails, Jewell didn't answer directly. Instead, she said she looks forward to seeing the details of the plan.
Jewell added that there are some "amazing cultural or natural resources that right now have little or no protection."
Tribal leaders in southeastern Utah are pushing to preserve nearly 2 million acres in an area known as Bears Ears that contains culturally and archaeologically important sites. Legislation has yet to advance to preserve the area and tribal leaders have said they are open to the idea that Obama could use his unilateral power under the Antiquities Act to name a new monument there.
Obama, who has named 19 monuments during his time in office, has said he will designate more if Congress refuses to act.
Chaffetz said Tuesday that he has appreciated Jewell's patience as he and others negotiated a compromise that he hopes to unveil soon. He noted the legislation is currently being drafted, though it's complicated because of all the land under consideration.
"We've had good discussions but everyone wants to see it in black and white on paper," Chaffetz said. "The clock is ticking, I make no bones about it, but we're working in the right direction."
The bill, as Chaffetz has outlined, would extend some level of federal protection for 3.9 million acres in eastern Utah and open up some 365,000 acres in the Uinta Basin for oil and gas exploration.
It also would expand Arches National Park by 50,000 acres; upgrade Dinosaur National Monument; and turn the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur-fossil quarry into "Jurassic National Monument."