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Heller targets national monument designations

With Republicans concerned that President Barack Obama could restrict mining and drilling in the West by creating 14 national monuments, Rep. Dean Heller plans to introduce a bill “within the next day or two” requiring such designations in Nevada be subject to congressional approval, his spokesman said Tuesday.

The bill will be tailored after one by Wyoming’s delegation in 1950 that persuaded Congress to exempt Wyoming from presidential monument designation. The bill was crafted in the aftermath of President Franklin Roosevelt’s use of the Antiquities Act to create what was called Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, intends as well to introduce a monument exemption measure in the House soon similar to what Utah’s Republican senators, Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, did Monday in the Senate.

Heller’s concern stems from a draft Interior Department memo that surfaced last week. The memo calls for carving two national monuments out of parts of central and Northern Nevada to protect American Indian cultural sites and habitat for sensitive wildlife.

The memo doesn’t say how much acreage would be involved but describes the monuments as the Heart of the Great Basin in Nye County ranges and Owyhee Desert in Nevada and Oregon.

The Heart of the Great Basin contains “a globally unique assemblage of cultural, wildlife and historical values. … Thousands of petroglyphs and stone artifacts provide insight to the area’s inhabitants from as long as 12,000 years ago,” one entry reads. The area contains creeks, aspen groves and habitat for sage grouse and pika, an alpine rodent.

The memo contains 12 other national monument candidate descriptions for:

■ San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa in Utah.

■ The Berryessa Snow Mountains, Bodie Hills, Modoc Plateau and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument expansion in California.

■ The Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve and Otero Mesa in New Mexico.

■ Northwest Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

■ Vermillion Basin in Colorado.

■ The San Juan Islands in Washington.

■ The Northern Prairie in Montana.

An Interior Department spokeswoman has said the internal draft memo is a brainstorming effort within the Bureau of Land Management.

The spokeswoman, Dendra Barkoff, said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked his department’s agencies to think about what areas might be worth considering for national monuments.

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