Federal agencies sign decisions approving management plans for Bears Ears National Monument

On December 20, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service approved the Bears Ears National Monument plans. The newly approved plans for the Indian Creek and Shash Jáa units of the monument provide guidance for the future management of lands and resources that are important to residents of San Juan County.

The new plans are intended to protect the irreplaceable cultural resources in the monument, while still providing recreation access. The plans specifically prohibit commercial logging on BLM-administered lands.  Forest Service-administered lands will also be unsuitable for timber production within the monument. 

The plans allow the option to use a variety of vegetation treatment tools, but the BLM shared that no chaining has occurred in more than 30 years and none is likely to occur except under very unusual circumstances. 

The BLM states that any vegetation treatments within the monument would use the least impactful method as possible. 

Popular local uses, such as firewood collection, grazing, and Native American traditional and ceremonial uses will continue to take place. 

Hiking, backpacking, and visiting cultural sites will continue to be allowed. ATVs will still be allowed on routes designated as open to motorized travel, but riders will not be allowed to travel cross country outside of designated routes.

The BLM will continue to support recreation tourism activities, such as guided trips and commercial events through Special Recreation Permits. 

The decisions also ensure that public lands within the monument will not be sold and that no new mining claims can be filed.  Mineral development and leasing is restricted. 

“These plans protect lands and resources sacred to Tribes, while also allowing the public to enjoy and appreciate this awesome and unique place. The plans also provide economic opportunities for residents of San Juan County by supporting recreation tourism,” said Gary Torres, the BLM Acting Canyon County District Manager and a Monticello resident. 

“I grew up in Monticello, and I want the monument to be protected for future generations, so that my children and grandchildren can enjoy this area, the way I did when I was growing up,” said Torres.

The BLM and the Forest Service sought input from the public, local residents, local government, and Tribes. 

The cities of Blanding and Monticello, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, National Park Service, Pueblo of San Felipe, San Juan County, the State of Utah, and the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration served as cooperators in the planning effort. 

More than 30 tribes were invited to be cooperating agencies in developing the plans. 

Other agencies with expertise such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Utah State Historic Preservation Officer, Utah Public Land Policy Coordinating Office, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation consulted with the BLM as they developed their environmental analysis and the Governor had 60 days for a consistency review.  

Torres said, “This planning effort was rigorously scrutinized and reviewed by many and I believe our engagement with the public, tribes, and local and state agencies has helped us make better decisions.”

The public was also represented during the planning process by the Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee. The group members were selected to represent a variety of interested groups and perspectives. 

At the June meeting of the committee, members provided the agencies with recommendations that ultimately helped create a new alternative: Alternative E, which protects Monument objects and values, allows flexibility for uses in the monument, and provides guidance for implementation-level planning like travel management planning. 

The BLM and Forest Service selected Alternative E as the Approved Alternative for the Record of Decision.

The agencies initiated planning efforts in January, 2018 which included hosting seven public meetings and sharing the draft plans with the public. 

“This decision and Approved Monument Management Plans are the result of two years of work, including seven months of public participation, consultation with tribes, coordination with partners, input from the Monument Advisory Committee, and lots of hard work from our planning teams,” said Amber Johnson, Acting Monticello Field Manager.

The signing of the decision is an important milestone for the BLM and the Forest Service. The next stage for the agencies include implementation-level plans that will have more of an impact on the public.

“Now that we have a blueprint for the management of the Monument, we can begin planning on-the-ground management efforts that will include opportunities for additional public, tribal, and partner input,” said Torres. 

“We anticipate completing our cultural resources and recreation management implementation plans within the next few years. We’ll let the public know and we’ll invite everyone to participate.” 

Visitors to the monument may see improvements in the next several years. Visitation has increased in San Juan County because of the monument, and the agencies would like to improve visitor experiences through new interpretative sites, recreation amenities, stewardship programs, and campgrounds. 

“Implementation plans will balance our commitment to the proper care and management of monument resources while allowing us to improve visitor experiences through improving recreation sites,” said Torres. 

“We want the public to enjoy this incredible place and help us be good public lands and cultural resource stewards.”

Since the Monument designation, the BLM has increased staffing to include Monument-specific park rangers, an outdoor recreation planner, a wildlife biologist, visitor contact specialists, an archaeologist, and a tribal liaison. 

The team is led by the new Monument Manager Jake Palma, formerly the BLM Planning and Environmental Coordinator in Price, UT. The team is committed to improve visitor experiences and work with Tribes to maintain access for traditional uses.  

“The monument provides many opportunities for us all to learn about native plants, wildlife, and the cultural history of this area,” said Palma. “We want to help people better understand this landscape and to allow them to use and enjoy it appropriately without damaging the resources or the experience for others. The monument plans help make sure we can do this.”

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