by Bill Boyle
Expect a full-blown circus in Bluff on Saturday as a high-level contingent of federal officials host a public hearing about public lands issues.
The meeting is scheduled to be held in the Bluff Community Center, which has a maximum capacity of several hundred people.
It appears to me that those who are interested in attending the meeting may number in the thousands.
I hope the air-conditioner is working overtime in the Bluff Community Center, as it is anticipated that temperatures will top 100° on Saturday. My definition of hot: three hours of high emotions on a sweltering day in a small building.
It makes me wonder why such an important meeting will be held in such a small building with limited parking. The San Juan High School auditorium will be sitting empty on Saturday afternoon, as will the large auditoriums at Whitehorse High School and Monument Valley High School.
Since there will be hundreds of voices wanting to be heard on Saturday, I want to take some space here to outline my concerns, and many of the concerns of local residents.
First, I am pleased there is high-level interest in resolving public lands issues in San Juan County. Congress and the Administration seems to be focused on finding a solution, and it appears as if something will be coming in a matter of months.
Long-standing public lands issues have festered in San Juan County since the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, or FLPMA, was passed in 1976.
That was 40 years ago, and we are still fighting the same battles that were initiated under President Gerald Ford! I believe it is time to find a resolution.
However, finding that resolution causes great anxiety for local residents.
Please be aware that the solutions could have a significant impact on everyday life for the residents of San Juan County.
This isn’t just a photo on the wall or a once-in-a-lifetime visit, it is our life and heritage and livelihood.
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I am in support of resolving these issues through the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) developed by the local representatives in Congress. The process to develop a legislated solution is simply better than an executive decision developed in secret and handed down from 3,000 miles away.
A legislative action through Congress is messy and painful and frustrating and time consuming. It seems as if the PLI process has taken forever, but it has been comprehensive. All involved parties have been invited to participate and help develop the legislation.
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The sheer size of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument is simply stunning. At 1.9 million acres, the new national monument would be nearly 2 1/2 times larger than all of the national parks in Utah, combined.
Think of it, southern Utah’s Mighty Five national parks, representing the highest concentration of national parks in the nation, total 838,613 acres.
This includes the stunning beauty of Zions, world-renowned sites in Bryce Canyon, otherworldly beauty of Capital Reef, the instantly recognizable sites in Arches and our very own Canyonlands.
The parks, known as the Mighty Five, helped funnel more than 12 million visitors to Utah last year. These parks are impressive and mighty, but they will pale in comparison to the size of the proposed Bears Ears monument.
Simply put, with few exceptions, the Bears Ears proposal would gobble up all of the remaining public land west of Highway 191 in San Juan County.
The proposed national monument includes Cedar Mesa and the Bears Ears, two areas with acknowledged value to Native Americans.
However, the new monument would also swallow up millions of acres all the way to Grand County, totaling more than 3,000 square miles.
This includes the entire Abajo unit of the Manti-La Sal National Forest (including the Abajos, Elk Ridge, Shay Mountain and more), in addition to Indian Creek and the Canyonlands Basin.
That is just the start. The proposal also includes Nokai Dome; Mancos Mesa; Red, White and Dark canyons; and Beef Basin on the west. On the east, Comb Ridge, Butler and Cottonwood washes, and even Recapture Pocket may be included.
When local residents take a close look at a map of the proposal, they are going to be shocked.
If millions of acres are hard to visualize, check out the hamburgers below, showing the relative size to scale.
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Native American issues are always of paramount importance in San Juan County, where more than 50 percent of the population are Natives.
The two proposals have split the local Native American populations. A large, vocal, and interested group support the National Monument and a large, vocal and interested group oppose the National Monument.
Many areas in the proposed monument are of significance to Native Americans, for a number of reasons. There are strong cultural connections as a place to gather herbs, food and medicine, and for ceremonial purposes.
There is an historical connection to the Bears Ears area, which tradition says is the birthplace of Navajo Chief Manuelito.
In addition to having historical and cultural meaning for Native Americans, large areas of Cedar Mesa are important for an entirely practical purpose: the areas are used for wood gathering. Simply stated, wood from Cedar Mesa heats homes throughout the northern portion of the Navajo reservation.
That use needs to be preserved regardless of the Bears Ears or PLI resolution. Retaining the ability to use Cedar Mesa for wood gathering is a major concern of the local Native Americans who oppose a National Monument designation.