DOI Sandbags Bears Ears National Monument

The 85% reduction of Bears Ears National Monument, home to world-class rock climbing, is still tied up in court. However, the Trump Administration continues to undermine the monument designation at every opportunity, and Access Fund continues to advocate for the climbing community and the protection and sustainable management of Bears Ears.

Climbing at Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument | Ute (Nuu-agha-tuvu-pu) and Pueblo Territories | Photo courtesy of © Mike Schirf

Recently, the Trump administration moved forward with a monument management plan that only addresses 15% of the original national monument. To make matters worse, the Department of Interior (DOI) just announced a citizen committee to advise the government on that management plan—and its made up of people who opposed the creation of the Monument in the first place. Sound backwards? That’s because it is.

The original monument proclamation required the formation of this advisory committee to provide information and advice regarding the development and implementation of the monument management plan. The proclamation mandates that: “This advisory committee shall consist of a fair and balanced representation of interested stakeholders, including state and local governments, tribes, recreational users, local business owners, and private landowners.” This advisory committee mandate remained unchanged by President Trump’s 2017 proclamation to reduce the monument.

Access Fund nominated our Senior Policy Advisor, Jason Keith, a Moab-local and one of the foremost experts on southeastern Utah dispersed recreation and public lands management. Climbers are one of the largest visitor groups at Indian Creek and Bears Ears National Monument, yet no climbers were appointed to the advisory committee. Despite Keith’s credentials and support by Utah Congressman Curtis, he was not selected—nor were any representatives from the Inter-Tribal Coalition, a group of five Tribes with fundamental ties to the Bears Ears region.

The 15 citizens that Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt selected for the advisory committee largely oppose the existence of the Monument. To put it bluntly, the deck has been stacked.

“We're concerned that the current advisory committee will not provide a balanced set of stakeholder advisors that are invested in protecting the natural, cultural, and recreation resources that make the invaluable Bears Ears landscape so unique and important to our collective story,” says Erik Murdock, Access Fund policy director.

Josh Ewing, executive director of Bluff-based Friends of Cedar Mesa noted to the Salt Lake Tribune that, “The BLM and the Forest Service are asking people who don’t think the monument should exist for advice on how to manage it. While those are important voices to be considered, they shouldn’t be the only ones at the table.”

Also troubling is the fact that the advisory committee is being convened after the development of the management plan, when one of the primary goals of the committee was to inform the development of a fair and balanced plan. The management plan has already been drafted and the final version is set to be released this summer. If the Advisory Committee was established a year ago, as intended, it could have helped ensure that all stakeholder voices—including climbers, Native American Tribes, paleontologists, hunters, outfitters, and conservationists—were equally represented during the planning process.

The first Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled for June 5, 2019 in Monticello, Utah and is open to the public. An Access Fund and Friends of Indian Creek representative will attend the committee meeting and submit comments for the record.

Access Fund is still engaged in an active lawsuit to reverse the 85% reduction of Bears Ears National Monument, as President Trump’s proclamation violates both the Antiquities Act and the United States Constitution. While we would have liked to see this issue settled in court before the DOI developed the Monument Management Plan, Access Fund is actively engaged in this premature planning process to ensure that the situation does not go from bad to worse. The final Bears Ears National Monument management plan is expected to be released later this summer. Stay tuned for updates.

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