Now is the time for locals to “own” Bears Ears NM

by Bill Boyle
In the four months since the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument by President Barack Obama, San Juan County seems to have been in a state of suspended animation.
Now that President Donald Trump will request a review of the Antiquities Act, I think it is time that businesses, residents, and other entities in San Juan County take the lead in the development and management of the area.
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The way San Juan County tourism resources have been exploited by out-of-county entities is a pet peeve of mine.
Just think about it. If you want to explore the Needles and Island in the Sky districts of Canyonlands National Park, which are almost entirely in San Juan County, the logical destination is a motel, outfitter, rental agency, and guide in Moab.
There is almost no tourism infrastructure in northern San Juan for visitors to Canyonlands NP.
If you want to explore Monument Valley, which is almost entirely in San Juan County, your most likely destination for many years was Kayenta, AZ.
In recent years, Gouldings and the Navajo Nation Park have increased the share of Monument Valley traffic that is captured within the county.
And what about Lake Powell, in which San Juan County shares more shoreline than any other entity? The most logical place to enjoy Lake Powell is from Page, AZ.
In the future, it will be the ultimate tragedy that if you want to enjoy Bears Ears, your destination is a source outside of San Juan County.
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Within a few weeks of the monument designation, I saw an advertisement about a deluxe four-day tour of the Bears Ears from an out-of-county entity. The tour includes three overnights in Bluff, exploration of several areas in the Bears Ears and lectures by experts, all for just $2,560. $2,560 for four days!!!
In the subsequent weeks, I have received several other solicitations for visitors to the area to explore the Bears Ears, all by out-of-area tour operators.
It would be shortsighted and may further the exploitation of this beautiful area if local entities did not stand up and offer similar services.
Similarly San Juan County entities need to stand up and take ownership of the changes brought about by the designation. This will allow for local development, local control, and help avoid the exploitation of the area that everyone fears.
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Monticello, Blanding, Bluff and San Juan County need to own Bears Ears rather than being victimized by it. I fear that unless we take aggressive action, that may be the outcome. That is a tragedy.
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There has been significant enthusiasm about the Bears Ears among Native Americans. I think that the benefits of these opportunities should primarily benefit the Native American communities in the area and not the out-of-area entities that may simply seek to exploit this spectacular place that we call home.
I hope that Native American groups will partner with local entities.
The cold hard truth is that the Bears Ears debate began with lots of talk about co-management of the monument for Native Americans. However, in the actual declaration, there is little or no legal framework for Native American management, and no mention of funding.
The funding issues are even worse for the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, which now have significantly more work to manage the area and no sign of any increased budget.
Four months into the designation and there is no sign of even naming a supervisor for the massive monument.
Unfortunately, the only thing that has changed on the ground since the December 28, 2016 declaration is a newly found awareness of the area by millions of Americans who are looking for the next adventure.
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Local voices have been heard and now the federal government is investigating the effort to shrink the monument or revoke it entirely. In the meantime, we need to make sure that San Juan County is not further victimized.
The monument was declared despite the fact that every elected official with specific responsibility over the land opposed the designation. That opposition includes every county commissioner, state legislators, statewide elected officials, and our federal representatives in Congress. Present Donald Trump has also signaled opposition to the massive monument.
It was completely understandable that local residents, businesses and political entities would wait for the new administration to act. However, now that a review process is in place, we need to take aggressive steps to see that local residents and the land itself is not victimized by the designation.
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I hope that the charges filed last week in Seventh District Court against two environmental activists will help stop the nonsense that has taken place in San Juan County for the past several years.
Charges were filed against Mark Franklin and Rose Chilcoat for closing a gate that cut off access to water for cattle on Lime Ridge. Franklin faces a felony charge.
While the alleged acts may not rise to the level of war crimes, they can have significant consequences and really need to stop.
For several years, small acts of vandalism, harassment, mischief and disinformation have failed to have any positive impact and succeeded only in annoying people on all sides.
Of course, extremists on both sides of the issue point fingers at the other side as being responsible for the nonsense.
After years of dealing with the frustrations of numerous accusations and little evidence, the San Juan County Attorney finally has enough information to file formal charges.
I wholeheartedly support the San Juan County Sheriff and Attorney for pursuing the investigation and filing charges. My support for charges being filed for acts such as this will be consistent, regardless of the politics or the residency of the accused.
While no one knows the outcome of the charges, the effort will be successful if it stops the nonsense.

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