BLM, Forest Service, and Bears Ears Commission answers questions at first virtual meeting for draft plan

by David Boyle

News Director

Federal land agencies and members of the Bears Ears Commission provided information and answered some questions related to the Bears Ears National Monument draft plan in an online forum on April 16.

The groups spoke about recreation, grazing, target shooting, Tribal co-management and the possible closure of motorized travel in Arch Canyon.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service held the first of seven public meetings to share information about the Bears Ears National Monument Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement in an online forum on April 16.

An in-person meeting took place in Salt Lake City on April 18 and another was held in Blanding on April 23, after the San Juan Record print deadline.

At the April 16 meeting, BLM and Forest Service representatives outlined the timeline of events following President Joseph Biden’s redesignation of the 1.3 million-acre monument in October 2021.

The agencies published a notice of intent to draft the plan in August 2022. The 1,200-page draft plan was published on March 8, with a 90-day public comment period open since the time and concluding on June 11.

At the April 16 online meeting, agency leaders said that the proposed resource management plan and final impact statement will likely be published in October, with the record of decision to be signed likely in January 2025.

Formal public comments on the draft plan can be submitted online at, by mail to ATTN: Monument Planning, BLM Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main, Monticello, UT 84535 or by filling out a comment card at a public meeting or verbally through a court recorder at those same meetings.

One meeting was held in Blanding on April 23 and one will be held in Monument Valley on May 16.

At the April 16 online forum, Michael Englehart, Manti-La Sal District Ranger of the Moab/Monticello District, explained to attendees how to give effective comments on the draft plan.

“The most useful public comments are those that raise questions about the accuracy of information or the methods used by the federal agencies in framing the range of alternatives presented in the draft EIS.

“Also a very useful comment are those that present new and relevant information for analysis such as research reports, personal knowledge of locations, resources that are out on the landscape, uses that are important to you; those are all very important things to hear.

“Those public comments that present reasonable alternatives to what is currently being presented within the range of alternatives.”

Englehart added that comments are not used or counted as votes, and explained that expressed opinions or preferences for alternatives will not receive a formal response but may be considered as part of the decision-making process.

In addition to reviewing the draft plan, Englehart also encouraged attendees to visit the e-planning website to review the interactive map tool, which allows viewers to get detailed looks at how the draft plan alternatives would impact areas in the monument differently.

Jake Palma, BLM Monticello Field Manager, also gave some background information on the draft plan. Palma outlined that the October 2021 proclamation of President Joseph Biden not only restored the boundaries of the monument, but also instructed the federal agencies to create a management plan with an emphasis on protection of monument objects.

“Objects are essentially different resources or things that are important on the Bears Ears landscape that the president in his proclamation identified as things that need to be protected.

“As we discuss the range of alternatives of this draft management plan, I hope we can keep in mind that is the minimum bar that we have as agencies as we draft the management plan.”

Palma outlined that the action alternatives B, C, D and E, at minimum, protect monument objects identified in the proclamation.

Palma added that as part of the BLM planning regulations, a preferred alternative is identified as part of releasing the draft to the public The preferred alternative was identified as E.

“As we considered a range of alternatives, which was closest to meeting that purpose and need of developing this resource management,” said Palma.

“This preferred alternative does not constitute a decision. Alternative E is not necessarily going to move forward with the decision. That’s why we’re in the 90-day public comment period.”


At the meeting the BLM and Forest Service also spoke with and about the co-management of the monument with the Bears Ears Commission.

The Commission is made up of representatives from the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni.

Englehart described the process of drafting the resource management plan as very special, noting that the plan was drafted through a cooperative agreement with the tribes represented on the Bears Ears Commission and that all alternatives included consideration for traditional indigenous knowledge.

“It’s not just the content and consideration for traditional indigenous knowledge, it's the understanding, the relationship building between our nation and the sovereign nations represented by the Bears Ears Commission to help us build and grow together,” said Englehart.

“To see worldviews, perspectives from the traditional indigenous nations that help us manage land better together.”

Englehart emphasized that the draft plan is not the only collaboration between the land agencies and the commission, but that they’ll be involved for years to come in implementation-level planning.

Anthony Sanchez, representative of the Pueblo of Zuni, added that the tribes will be able to provide recommendations to the agencies on how the land will be managed according to their knowledge and expertise.

“It allows the tribes to continue this opportunity of passing of our traditional knowledge in cultivating our youth in learning and managing their ancestral footprint in this culturally significant area of importance to tribes.”


A question raised related to the idea of culture site rest and closures. Englehart said the agencies will continue to collaborate with tribal representation via the Bears Ears Commission on implementing resource rest for cultural sites.

“Implementation could include on or off-site interpretation signs, and education. It could include some seasonal closures, closures for other uses out of protection for objects of the monument.”

Davina Smith spoke as the Navajo Nation representative on the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition and proxy for Council delegate Curtis Yanito.

Smith outlined that land resting provides benefit to the natural environment, including the soil which provides plants that serve as medicines, for ceremonial purpose as well as nutrition for humans and wildlife alike.

“We see it as a grocery store. We need to be patient and let it replenish and give nutrients for all of us to use.”

Smith added that any decision for cultural rest of areas – like all aspects of the monument – would be a collaborative decision.

“Agencies will be making these decisions in collaboration with the Bears Ears Commission. So I also want to say, in other words, Tribes cannot and will not close the monument.”


At the meeting, Palma addressed travel and transportation within the monument. Travel areas within the monument would be designated as limited or closed. Designated limited areas will be limited to designated routes or other limitations such as vehicle size or seasonal limitations.

Closed designation means areas would be closed to OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) use. Specific route designations will be determined through the travel management plan, which will be developed in the future.

While alternatives A, B and C would essentially close no additional areas in the monument, Alternatives D and E would have some area closures, with Alternative D being more restrictive than E. However, both D and E include an area closure of Arch Canyon.

In the meeting, federal agencies responded to a written question asking when a proposed closure of Arch Canyon would take place and why it would be closed for OHV use.

Palma shared that the area closure to OHV’s are part of alternatives D and E. If the area closure to Arch Canyon were to go into effect, Palma said it would take place immediately upon the record of decision, which would likely be near the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Palma shared the rationale for the consideration of closure of the area as part of two draft alternatives.

“That area specifically is rich in cultural resources. There’s water, wildlife, important plants that are culturally important.

“It’s long been a desirable location for multi-day backpacking trips, which hasn’t been ideal for backpackers to get in there while there’s motorized vehicles in the canyon.

“In consideration of sensitive resources, wildlife, cultural resources, water, and user conflict potential, the agencies felt it was appropriate to consider a range of alternatives that considers in a couple of alternatives an area closure for Arch Canyon.

“I’ll reiterate that it is a range of alternatives to consider and that no commitment to this area closure has been made at this time.

“We’ll consider public input in how we proceed from a draft plan to a proposed plan and how we manage that arch canyon area as part of an OHV designation.”


Federal agencies also discussed the draft plan alternatives related to recreation management.

Alternatives A-D would have special recreation management areas within the monument and extensive recreation management areas within the monument.

However, Alternative E would take a different approach by identifying four recreation zones with varying zones applied to all acreage in the monument.

Palma noted that having a recreation management area or a management zone is not necessarily to promote recreation within the area, but to recognize that recreation is happening and to provide a framework to protect resources in the area.

Palma noted that within alternative E, the public is encouraged to stay on trails when hiking with trails designated through implementation level planning. Asked what it means to encourage people to stay on trails, Palma said that the monument sees an estimated 500,000 visitors each year.

“Many of the people would appreciate knowing exactly where they can go for a hike, based on their family situation, or time available.

“Encouraging people to go to specific places that are prepared for more people to go to is important. It doesn’t mean people can’t hike otherwise throughout the monument.

“We just encourage people to stay on those trails that are more prepared to be able to protect resources but it's not a prohibition of hiking anywhere within the monument.”

Under Alternative E, dispersed campsites in areas would be inventoried and monitored with designating campsites through future planning. Also, special recreation permits would be required for all organized groups more than 15 people, as well as the prohibition of certain activities like paragliding, hang gliding, base jumping, and geocaching.


Palma reported changes related to grazing within the monument, noting that the Presidential Proclamation was clear that grazing is an allowable use in the monument and that existing permits and uses would be allowed to continue.

“There’s some slight reduction in acreages available to grazing but would be no modifications to the amount of AUM’s (Animal Unit Months) that are within each allotment.”

Alternatives B,C and E have a proposed reduction in acreages available to grazing.

“There’s a slight addition of areas that are inaccessible even now to cattle and haven’t been grazed in some time. So those have been added to areas unavailable to grazing.”

Alternative D has more reduction of acres available and more trailing-only areas.


Another topic brought up is target shooting within the monument, with options ranging from target shooting being allowed in almost the entirety of the monument to target shooting not being allowed in any part of the monument.

At a minimum, the management plan will prohibit target shooting in developed recreation areas, and in and around cultural resource sites. The plan will also give flexibility to close target shooting in the future as resource concerns come up as a result of target shooting.

Alternative A and B would allow target shooting within 1.3 million acres of the monument, with 1.2 million acres available for target shooting in Alternative C, roughly 460,000 in Alternative D, and zero in Alternative E.

Palma clarified that target shooting closures will not limit people’s legal pursuit of wild game within the monument.

BLM and Forest Service representatives also answered questions related to dark skies designation, consideration of designations of areas of critical environmental concern, and scientific research within the monument in answer to questions.

Another virtual public meeting will be held on Thursday, May 2 from 6 to 7:30 pm.

An open house will take place in Twin Arrows, AZ on May 6, and in Albuquerque, NM on May 7.

The final public meeting is planned to be at Monument Valley High on May 16 from 6 to 8 pm.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday