Why I support HCR11
By Senator Stuart Adams
There are several reasons I supported HCR 11, Concurrent Resolution Urging The President To Rescind The Bears Ears National Monument Designation and HCR 12, Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation To Reduce Or Modify The Boundaries Of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
First: This is an education funding issue.
The Enabling Act that was signed when Utah became a State says: “That upon the admission of said State into the Union, sections numbered two, sixteen, thirty-two, and thirty-six in every township of said proposed State, …are hereby granted to said State for the support of common schools”. This is a promise to set aside lands for the specific purpose of generating funds for public schools. Trust lands funds are unique in that they go directly to individual community councils to spend as they see fit on needs for their individual schools. President Obama removed, not through a proscribed congressional deliberation, but with the stroke of his pen, our ability to use 109,000 acres of these trust lands. In so doing, he is taking funds directly from individual schools.
We struggle with funding education for two main reasons in Utah: our inability to collect property taxes on federal lands and high birth rates.
Prior to the Bears Ears designation, the Federal Government owned and controlled over 60% of the land within our borders. Through Bears Ears, they took an area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island (1.35 million acres). Education is funded by taxes: property taxes, sales and use taxes and income taxes. But the state is allowed to generate income off of less than 40 percent of available land in Utah. Other western states have a common complaint; their taxable resources are also unavailable due to the commandeering of their land.
Second: As legislators we need to look out for the concerns and well being of all of our state’s citizens.
Utah is already home to five national parks and seven national monuments. The acreage numbers are nothing short of astonishing. Utah’s “Mighty Five” and Cedar Breaks National Monument comprise 856,795 acres (1,339 square miles). The Grand Staircase alone covers 1,880,461 acres (2,938 square miles). Bears Ears National Monument covers 1.35 million acres (2,109 square miles). All or part of four national monuments, one national park, and one national recreation area are located in San Juan County. It truly is beautiful country and parts of it should be protected, preserved and accessible for public use.
However, despite the presence of these national monuments, parks, and recreation areas as tourist destinations, San Juan is the poorest county in the state and one of the most economically depressed in the entire nation. The Navajos in San Juan County experience some of the highest rates of unemployment in the state. Rural economies depend on multiple uses of our public lands for sustenance and growth. However, the Bears Ears National Monument designation will remove forever the possibility of economic development for the county. It will decimate the already fragile economy of the region and repercussions will be felt around the state.
San Juan County residents, including local Native American tribes, fear that woodcutting, pinion gathering, traditional religious and cultural practices, and a host of other historical uses of the area will be restricted or entirely prohibited. They have good reason to fear this. When San Juan County’s Natural Bridges National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were put in place by executive order, residents received a presidential promise that grazing would “remain at historical levels.” However, available grazing permits have declined by nearly a third and woodcutting has been prohibited.
Close to where I live in Davis County there is a beautiful waterfall in Adams Canyon. If the federal government determined it wanted to protect that waterfall, most of us would not think that was a bad idea. However, if the President declared a National Monument from Perry to Holladay, taking away the property rights of the citizens along the Wasatch Front and taking away their ability to use their property, in order to protect a waterfall, I think everyone would agree that would be wrong.
As HRC 11 says, “citizens in rural Utah deserve an equal opportunity to pursue happiness through the protection of their life, liberty, property, and right to determine their own destiny unimpeded by their own federal government.” Rural Utah deserves the same anticipated protections that the Wasatch Front has come to expect.
Third: The time has come and the window is wider than it has been for decades.
I believe that states need to start pushing back on both the federal government and on accepting unilateral decisions made by whomever is sitting in the President’s chair. I am the Senate sponsor of a resolution titled Re-Empowerment of the States. This is one of several other bills and resolutions working their way through this session that discuss similar approaches to taking back the collective power of the states and their lost voices. The Legislature’s request to President Trump to rescind the Bears Ears land designation and reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are part of an obligation to the citizens of Utah to reign in the unilateral power of the executive pen.