The Obama administration made the announcement Wednesday that it would preserve the swath of land as a national monument, much to the dismay of Utah's Republican state officials.
“Rather than shut out local residents, the Administration should look for ways to strengthen schools, pave roads, and build the local economy. Instead, it rides roughshod over repeatedly expressed local concerns and exceeds the law’s scope as intended by Congress when it passed the Antiquities Act over a century ago," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. “My office is working closely with the Governor’s office, federal and state legislators, and San Juan County to file a lawsuit challenging this egregious overreach by the Obama Administration. This case is different from other past challenges by states and counties and we are confident in our chances of success."
Reyes argued that "the courtroom is not our only option," however.
"Our federal delegation is working hard to defund the designation or rescind it altogether. Additionally, we look forward to working with the new Presidential Administration on ways to curtail or otherwise address the designation," Reyes said. “Utah’s public lands deserve stewardship, but through the appropriate avenue of Congressional action with real participation of state, local and tribal leaders.”
Utah has become the center of a national fight over public land, and in 2012 passed a law that said federal land should be turned back over to the state. The federal government has not given over the land, and there are serious doubts about the legal merits of the legislation, but it signals just how contentious the issue is in Utah.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration also declared the area of Gold Butte in southern Nevada to be a national monument. Gold Butte includes the site of the 2014 armed standoff between the family of rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters and the federal government.