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‘Midnight Monument’? No, Utah Leaders Had Years to Make a Bears Ears Deal

In a world of fake news, the Utah delegation in step with Gov. Gary Herbert is participating in fake history when it comes to the Bears Ears National Monument proposal. They decry a “midnight monument” but, in truth, the protection of these vulnerable lands has been in the making for several years. It is a tribal proposal supported by the conservation community and supported by the majority of Utahns and Americans.

Utah Dine Bikeyah was founded in 2010 to push for protection of Bears Ears either through legislation or a presidential proclamation. At the same time, many conservation groups were advocating a Greater Canyonlands Monument for roughly the same area. Rep. Rob Bishop launched his Public Lands Initiative (PLI) three years later, in February 2013, with the express goal of substituting comprehensive legislation for any monument proclamation.

In July 2015 the Hopi, Navajo, Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Ute and Zuni united in the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, and a delegation of senior administration officials from the Department of Interior and the USDA made a site visit. On Oct. 15, 2015, the Intertribal Coalition delivered to President Obama a detailed proposal for a 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument under a collaborative management model. This had the formal support of all the tribal governments, support that has been repeatedly reiterated throughout this process, up until as recently as two weeks ago.

This summer, another site visit was made by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who convened a public hearing over the proposed Bears Ears National Monument in Bluff.

Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, and Neil Kornze, the BLM director, and many other high-level government officials were in attendance to hear local concerns and meet with the Utah delegation staff. Over a thousand citizens, most of them Utahns, attended the public hearing in Bluff, where monument supporters heavily outnumbered opponents.

Bears Ears has received more scrutiny than any other monument proposal before it and dozens of opinion pieces have appeared in this paper, as well as in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. It has been an open and community-building process that has emerged from the ground up led by the tribes.

It is important to know and restate that Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz received extensive cooperation from conservation groups in the early phases of developing the Public Lands Initiative for eastern Utah counties. Our representatives utterly failed to seriously address the concerns of the Intertribal Coalition, which officially represents five sovereign nations with special trust relationships with the United States government.

In late 2014, Bishop and Chaffetz ceased all pretense of collaboration. It is worth emphasizing that there was never a single meeting about San Juan County with the various stakeholders. Not one. The delegation left that task entirely to the San Juan County Commission, which refused to let anyone not living in the county participate in any way. When they solicited input from San Juan County residents, 64 percent supported the Bears Ears proposal in writing, but the county adopted a proposal that had the written support of just two people. Bishop’s proposal demotes the sovereign Indian nations to mere voices in a large crowd of advisers, chops out 600,000 acres of the Bears Ears area from protection with a gerrymandered boundary that allows every kind of proposed development project in the county to go forward, gives ownership of the roads to Utah so that looting can proceed beyond any control and hands over management of energy development to the state in a breathtaking violation of existing law. This is what passes for a comprehensive legislative proposal from the county. The PLI is a dream map of development for the fossil fuel industry.

The delegation declares that there is no support for the monument beyond environmental extremists, yet 70 percent of Utahns support the monument. All of the tribal governments have reiterated their support repeatedly. Over 20 Pueblo tribes in the American Southwest have formally written of their support along with the 360 tribes of the National Congress of American Indians. Six of the seven Navajo chapters in Utah have passed resolutions in support of the Bears Ears Monument. The Bears Ears National Monument proposal is anything but a top-down act by an “imperial presidency” as Sen. Mike Lee has suggested.

As members of the Utah conservation community, we have been deeply moved and inspired by the tribal leadership of the Intertribal Commission and the Utah Dine Bikeyah. Their strength of character, integrity and grace, not to mention patience, deserves greater respect from Utah’s politicians. At a time when we are witnessing the power of indigenous people’s resolve to fight for their native rights all over the world from big energy companies, a presidential proclamation to establish Bears Ears National Monument could be seen as an act of justice. The protection of Utah’s indigenous people’s home ground on Cedar Mesa, where they perform their ceremonies and honor the graves of their ancestors that have been pillaged and desecrated for decades, and at the same time safeguard these fragile lands from oil and gas development, would mark a moment in American history of respect for this nation’s first inhabitants.

The irony is apparently lost on Lee in his opinion piece in the Washington Post when he said, “The administration recently blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline due to strong opposition from local residents. I urge it to give the same respect to the residents of San Juan County.” The local residents at Standing Rock were Indians. “The frontlines are everywhere,” said Eric Descheenie, former co-chair of the Intertribal Commission and newly elected legislator in the Arizona State House. “Together, tribes and the United States can innovate land management that intersects the best of western science and method with those of traditional knowledge and practice. Enough time has passed. It’s been 524 years, Mr. President. Let’s get it done.”

Terry Tempest Williams is the author of “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.” Bill Hedden is the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust. Both live in Grand County.

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