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Gov. Gary Herbert is inviting 14 liberal U.S. senators who are asking President Barack Obama to create a 1.8 million-acre national monument around Canyonlands National Park to come to Utah and visit the area.
"While I disagree with the specific actions you recommend, I fully concur that Utah is blessed with amazing natural resources worthy of protection," Herbert said in the letter dated Tuesday. "Unfortunately, few out-of-state federal officials have had the opportunity to personally experience the natural wonders of Utah."
Herbert invited the senators to come to Utah at their convenience offering to arrange accommodations for the party and also encouraged the senators to support Rep. Rob Bishop's Public Lands Initiative aimed at negotiating a sweeping agreement among diverse stakeholders on the management of Utah lands.
"The PLI is an open, collaborative effort, designed to resolve many long-standing public land challenges in Utah," Herbert wrote, "including the area you specifically identified in your letter."
His invitation came just days after Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, hosted Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on a tour of southeastern Utah, the area where the proposed monument is located, to see the territory up close. Herbert pointed to that visit as a model for the senators to "see firsthand what we are doing to protect these iconic vistas and venues and optimize the use of our public lands."
Cummings, a Baltimore native who acknowledged he didn't know much about issues important in the rural West, said policymakers and bureaucrats should make an effort to get to know the people most directly affected by their decisions.
"At least they would feel a level of respect and dignity," Cummings said, "and I think that's what it is all about."
A spokeswoman for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the lead signatory on the letter from the senators, did not immediately respond to a question of whether the senator planned to accept Herbert's invitation.
Meantime, the Republican members of Utah's delegation sent a letter Wednesday to Obama urging him to ignore the request from the senators and environmental groups.
In their letter to the president, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart also highlighted the "collaborative" land-management talks that have been ongoing.
"Unfortunately, there is a desire among some fringe environmental groups to skirt this process. … They have even enlisted several members of Congress to their cause," they wrote. "The use of the Antiquities Act authority to designate a monument in Utah would be devastating to our state and would drive a wedge between parties that we have been working with throughout our collaborative process."
The letter is a counter to the one sent last week by liberal senators to Obama, urging him to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the national monument to protect the redrock mesas and ancient cliff dwellings.
Environmental groups and the Navajo Nation have been pressing for the creation of the monument for more than a year.
"Greater Canyonlands is one of our nation's most stunning, wild and unique landscapes," the senators' letter said. "It should be protected permanently for the benefit and education of future generations."
The senators who signed the letter are Durbin; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.