Interior leader to hear from public on monument proposal

BLUFF, Utah (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell plans to hold a public meeting in southeast Utah on Saturday to discuss conservation proposals that include a divisive proposal to create a national monument at a sacred Native American site.

Jewell’s meeting in the town of Bluff caps off a four day research trip to the state as a coalition of tribes urges President Barack Obama to sweet 1.9 million acres around the twin Bears Ears buttes into a national monument.

The tribes and environmental groups say the area needs strong protections from threats of looting and damage from off-highway vehicles.

Opponents, mainly Republicans and local Utah officials, argue the monument proposal is overly broad and could close off access to the land for development, including oil and gas development, and recreation. Instead, they’re backing legislation from U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz that would have Congress designate 1.4 million acres around Bears Ears as a conservation area.

Conservation groups and tribal officials say the Bishop and Chaffetz bill doesn’t go far enough to protect the area.

The debate has even attracted the attention of actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, who has advocated on his social media accounts for a monument, and major outdoor recreation retailers Patagonia and Black Diamond, who have urged support for the proposal.

The U.S. Interior Department says Jewell’s visit doesn’t mean a monument decision is imminent.

Jewell said this week that she’s in Utah to listen and there’s no draft ready for any monument declaration.

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