Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell led the contingent, which included Robert Bonnie, the Under Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and the heads of the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Park Service.
Jewell would be eighth in line to the presidency, but she is ineligible since she was born in London.
Jewell told Commissioners, “I know emotions running hot. I am here to listen, to listen to the community and see what things are like here.”
Commission Rebecca Benally told Jewell, “I’m glad you are in a listening mode because there are people who are very passionate and they need to be listened to.”
Commission Chairman Phil Lyman said that San Juan County features Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The national monument would be nearly 3,000 square miles.
Lyman said that the scenery is spectacular, but added, “The real beauty is the people who live here. People want to disparage San Juan County with accusations of rampant looting, discrimination, and voting rights violations. It is the oddest spectacle imaginable, but it is believed.”
Lyman said that groups who claim to have been excluded from the PLI process were not excluded. He said, “They participated in many meetings and were invited to attend every meeting.”
Lyman said that funding came to the groups midway through the process and they stopped attending meetings. Sometimes the money affects the position that people take.
“Support for a National Monument is based on a false narrative,” said Lyman. “We don’t support it and the people of San Juan County do not support it.”
Commissioner Rebecca then spoke. She said, “Bears Ears Butte is a sacred place, a place of reverence and beauty. It is where we connect with Mother Earth and Father Sky.
I strongly oppose a National Monument on behalf of my constituency and the babies to be born. It is a sacred site, a serene site, a place of reverence.
If we make that into a National Monument, it will be gone. It will bring thousands and thousands of people because we have brought attention on something that is sacred to us.”
Benally closed by saying, “It is very disheartening to come to this point. By working together, we can become one voice. Lets believe in the PLI, lets talk about coming together and listen to the grassroots people that it would affect.”
Commissioner Bruce Adams discussed how immense the National Monument proposal is at 1.9 million acres. The proposal includes National Forest areas, including the watershed for area communities.
“I don’t like a top-down approach,” said Adams. “Government works better with input from the public. The people elect us to listen to them.”
“My constituency opposes the designation of a National Monument because it will not accomplish what is being sought. Please don’t allow the president to designate a monument in San Juan County… please.”