Leonardo DiCaprio foundation backing Utah national monument

SALT LAKE CITY — Leonardo DiCaprio's foundation is chipping in to support a new national monument in southern Utah that's been a flashpoint in the debate over public land use in the West, officials said Friday.

His environmental group is one of several donating to create the $1.5 million Bears Ears Community Engagement Fund, which is aimed at supporting local efforts to preserve natural resources and protect the park's trove of archaeological sites from looting and other threats.

The money could be spent on things like locating and putting up signs at ancient sites tucked amid picturesque cliffs, plateaus and towering rock formations in the Bears Ears monument about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, said Michael Scott with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The fund will also support efforts from the five American Indian tribes who will get a say in how the land is managed, a first for a national monument.

A coalition of American Indian tribes pushed the Obama administration to create the monument that protects the land from new mining and oil and gas development.

DiCaprio sent out messages on his Facebook and Instagram accounts in May 2016 urging people to sign petitions in support. A representative for DiCaprio didn't immediately have comment on the donation Friday.

President Barack Obama designated the 1.35-million-acre monument in the Four Corners region in December despite objections from Utah Republican leaders and rural residents who said it will add another layer of unnecessary federal control.

It's a common argument in the battle over use of the American West's vast open spaces, and one that opponents of the monument hope has traction during Donald Trump's presidency. Opponents agree the area is worth preserving but argue the federal designation will go too far and bar people from camping, hiking or gathering wood.

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