This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Anyone who has witnessed the pristine perfection of a mountain lake or the sublime desolation of a sandstone desert can attest to the diversity and grandeur of Utah's natural landscapes. This month, I had the opportunity to see once again the majesty of our lands up close as I toured Utah's Mighty Five National Parks in commemoration of the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. My visit to southern Utah reaffirmed my commitment to preserving our state's natural treasures while ensuring that Utahns have a voice in the management of our lands.
Each year, the number of tourists visiting Utah's national parks grows, and it grows for good reason: The Mighty Five are home to some of the best recreational opportunities in the world. As I hiked the Narrows with Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh in Zion, I was reminded why our state is widely regarded as an outdoorsman's paradise. As I toured Capitol Reef's abundant fruit orchards with Superintendent Leah McGinnis, I was stunned by the variety of Utah's many landscapes. And as I walked through Canyonlands and took in the scenery at Arches and Bryce Canyon, I was left breathless by some of the most panoramic views I have ever seen.
On this trip, I was also able to visit with families across southern and eastern Utah to discuss issues of particular concern to our rural residents, including access to quality health care. Many people living in remote areas of Utah have difficulty finding adequate care because they live so far away from the nearest hospital. To address this problem, I have worked tirelessly to ensure that our rural communities have greater access to high quality medical services. My legislative efforts in Congress have benefitted medical facilities such as Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch and the Kazan Memorial Clinic in Escalante two exemplary rural health centers. During my trip, I was able to tour both hospitals, where I talked to local residents who told me just how vital these centers are to the health of their family and loved ones.
Another issue of pressing concern to Utahns and indeed, to many Americans throughout the Mountain West is the ongoing debate over management of federal lands. I am wholly committed to protecting our state's natural wonders, including national parks like the Mighty Five. But I believe Utahns should have a say in how we protect our public lands.
During my journey, I visited Bears Ears, the site of a proposed national monument. The area surrounding the stunning Bears Ears formation is, without a doubt, a beautiful part of our state, rich with history and cultural significance. But these are far from the only features of the area that matter to those in eastern Utah who have lived on this land for generations and who rely on its resources for their livelihoods.
A unilateral designation by President Obama of a national monument around Bears Ears would represent federal overreach. It would cut out of the decision-making process the local communities that know the land best. And in the single stroke of a pen, it would put Washington bureaucrats in a position to impose onerous burdens over a vast 1.9 million acres, severely curtailing the way of life of so many of our fellow Utahns.
Out-of-state interests advocating for unilateral presidential action argue that a monument designation is the only means of protecting the Bears Ears area. But this argument is plainly false. All of us want to ensure that Bears Ears is protected not just for today's Utahns, but also for generations to come. Where we differ is how best to accomplish this goal.
Utah's elected leaders in Congress firmly believe we need a more collaborative approach to land management that will provide the kind of flexibility that past monument designations have ignored. For the last several years, our state's congressional delegation, under the leadership of House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop and Congressman Jason Chaffetz, have worked to develop a comprehensive land-use proposal for our public lands in eastern Utah. This Public Lands Initiative would conserve four times as much land as the proposed monument designation and would carefully tailor the protections for each individual tract of land, rather than prescribing an inefficient and burdensome one-size-fits-all monument designation.
I'm encouraged by the tremendous support we have received from state and local leaders, members of the Navajo Tribe, ranchers, outdoorsmen, and all of the various Utah stakeholders that know best how to manage the land. In light of this broad-based support, I urge the Obama administration to partner with us to support this important Initiative that will not only protect Utah's natural wonders, but also empower those Utahns who depend on our public lands.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is Utah's senior senator.