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Washington • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivered a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, urging him not to take unilateral action to name a new national monument in the state and noted in public remarks with the president the controversy caused by the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

After praising Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for working to reopen Utah's national parks during the 2013 government shutdown, Herbert said that hasn't always been the case in dealing with Washington.

"I do harken back to a failure, maybe an epic failure of lack of communication on a previous administration where a national monument was designated in Utah — larger than the state of Delaware, two and a half times larger than Rhode Island," Herbert told the president in front of most of the nation's governors.

"At any rate, the problem was that [then-]Gov. Mike Leavitt found out about that designation by reading The Washington Post," Herbert said. "That was the other side of the coin of not-good communication."

President Bill Clinton named the Grand Staircase monument at a news conference in Arizona, setting aside 1.9 million acres of public land in the middle of a general election. The move infuriated Utah leaders.

Herbert didn't directly ask Obama to promise not to name a new monument in Utah — he said later it wasn't the right place — but he did hand the president a letter that asks Obama to "refrain" from using the Antiquities Act to protect more public lands.

"History shows this sort of action will only exacerbate an already tense situation and will further perpetuate the longstanding public lands conflict," Herbert wrote in the letter. "Any unilateral action could set back progress, perhaps for decades."

A group of American Indian tribes has asked Obama to name the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah to preserve nearly 2 million acres containing historic and cultural areas. Obama has said he will name more monuments, but he has not said where.

Herbert said outside the White House that he spoke privately with the president about the letter and planned to follow up at a different time. The governor said he would raise it with Vice President Joe Biden when he visits Salt Lake City on Friday, but Herbert added that trying to exact a pledge in front of the news media and governors wasn't the appropriate setting.

"One, you don't have time," Herbert said in an interview. "You can't reduce a 30-40 minute discussion to just a one- or two-minute question. All that does is put people on the defensive."

Herbert is chairman of the National Governors Association and led the group's conference in Washington over the weekend. He also offered a toast — as a self-described "teetotaler Mormon from Utah" — to the president during a black-tie dinner at the White House on Sunday.

Obama thanked Herbert and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the NGA's vice chairman, for their work on behalf of their fellow governors and constituents.

"They're both doing outstanding jobs in their respective states," Obama said.

On Monday, Herbert joined McAuliffe and White House press secretary Josh Earnest for the regular press corps briefing and fielded a variety of questions on guns, refugees and transportation funding.

Standing behind the White House podium, Herbert said that he supported background checks for gun purchases and stressed ensuring mental-health databases are updated. And he said that states should be given transportation money that isn't filtered through the federal government.

A few minutes after the briefing, Herbert emerged from the West Wing, grinning. He said it was a fun experience facing the White House press corps, but also a little nerve-wracking.

"You see it on television, and you think, 'Well it should be easy,' " Herbert said. "But then you have to do it and you find out it is humbling and it's certainly intimidating to see all of those reporters and all the cameras going and thinking, 'Gee, I hope I said it the right way.' "