“The purpose really is to listen and to learn, to hear local views and also to build on the work that has already been done in this community by the land managers, by volunteer groups, by people that enjoy these lands so much,” Jewell told the hundreds of people who turned out in Bluff on July 16.
She said she and other federal officials who accompanied her on the tour heard many different views on how to manage the local lands, but one common thread was a desire for protection.
“One thing that I’ve heard, every place that I’ve been on this trip, is there is a desire to protect what’s here, for future generations,” Jewell said. “To have places like this for generations to come. And that has been consistent no matter who I have spoken with.”
Jewell’s visit to southeastern Utah coincided with the release of Utah Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), which the Utah congressional delegation has described as a compromise and “comprehensive plan” for managing public lands that they hope will eliminate the designation of future national monuments or national parks in Utah.
Casey Snyder, Bishop’s legislative director, spoke for the Utah congressional delegation at the Bluff event, arguing the case against a national monument and for the PLI as a way to solve land management issues in the Bears Ears region.
“There’s a difference between how people react when something is being done with them and how people react when something is being done to them,” Snyder said. “For the last three years, we have been working with people to come up with a process and a product which takes into consideration all the needs, uses, and desires of a community — Native American and Anglo.”
The PLI creates an 857,603-acre “Bears Ears National Conservation Area,” to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. In addition to the creation of a management plan that “considers” tribal leaders, the PLI establishes a 22-member “Bears Ears Advisory Committee” that reports directly to the Interior Secretary.
Creating a national monument instead of enacting a national conservation area through the PLI legislation, Snyder argued, might spark animosity at the local level.
“We’re concerned that a monument designation in this area will destroy that common sense of protecting it for protection, and flare animosity that would otherwise be a peaceful process,” he said.
But not everyone attending the public meeting shared Snyder’s view that the PLI would solve land management issues in the Bears Ears region.
Approximately 1,000 people attended the event — although the Bluff Community Center’s capacity was only 400 — and many wore blue “Protect Bears Ears” T-shirts.
Regina Lopez Whiteskunk, a Ute Mountain Ute Tribe council member and a leader in the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, told the federal representatives that the coalition’s proposal is very different than the proposed PLI legislation.
“We would like to respectively present a strong collaborative management piece so that the Native American voices can come together and bridge the evidence of science for traditional knowledge,” Whiteskunk said. “We feel very strongly this is something that is long overdue and something that we need to create a new tomorrow.”
With the 22-member Bears Ears Advisory Committee including only one member representing tribal interests, the PLI does not give tribes adequate input for those lands, Whiteskunk told The Times-Independent.
Whiteskunk said the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s proposal, in addition to creating a 1.9-million-acre national monument, establishes an eight-member commission focused on collaborative management, which she argues will give Native Americans a true voice in decision-making.
“Our proposal ensures that we’re at the table with more than just a consultation position,” Whiteskunk said. “We don’t want to be considered, we want to be a very big driving force in making sure we have access to the lands for the herbal collections, for the wood harvesting, for the access to the land. To be at the table and to be an equal factor in the policymaking — that’s what we’re really, really fighting for.”
Although many others voiced comments opposed to the monument during the meeting, Whiteskunk said the discussion was necessary so Jewell could get a full picture of the land issues in San Juan County.
“It helped both sides. That venue was desperately needed because there has not been that many people representing both sides of the issue at one time before,” Whiteskunk said. “This is one of those areas that it’s a necessary part of the process, good or bad or uncomfortable. It just needed to happen.”
Both proposals for the Bears Ears region are available online. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is available at: bearsearscoalition.org, and the PLI is posted at: utahpli.com.