Secretary of Interior to visit county this week, holds public meeting in Bluff on Saturday
A contingent of high-ranking officials from the federal government will visit San Juan County this week on a fact-finding tour to investigate public land proposals, including the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and the Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI).
During a three-day stay, officials are expected to tour the area, hike to several sites, and visit with local officials and groups.
A meeting with the San Juan County Commission is planned for 2 p.m. on Thursday at the Hideout Community Center in Monticello. While the meeting with Commissioners will be open to the public, no comment from the public will be taken.
The visit will culminate in a public hearing at the Bluff Community Center beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 16. The meeting is expected to last until 4 p.m. The center is at the corner of Third and Mulberry Streets in Bluff.
Supporters of the various proposals are taking a host of measures to ensure that their voices are heard at the meeting. It is anticipated that hundreds of people will attend.
“If you care about the future of San Juan County, you ought to come to Bluff on Saturday,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. “I don’t think most people in San Juan County know what we are up against.”
Supporters of the Bears Ears National Monument suggest arriving as soon as 11 a.m. for the meeting. They will be serving a free lunch.
Environmental groups are using calls, emails, advertisements and websites to ask supporters to travel to Bluff to attend the meeting and make their voices heard.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will be the highest-ranking official in the contingent, which will primarily include officials from the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.
Other officials expected to attend include U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Roberts.
The two competing public lands proposals appear to be on a collision course.
The Public Lands Initiative is legislation sponsored by Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, in addition to Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch.
Development of the PLI has been in process for more than four years as Utah’s elected federal representatives seek to find a long-term solution to public lands issues that have festered for 40 years.
San Juan County has been involved in the PLI process, with a recommendation from the San Juan County Commission that was included in the development of the legislation.
After months of delays, the Congressmen announced last week that the PLI will be formally introduced before the House of Representatives during the current work period. Legislative hearings on the bill will be scheduled in September.
The PLI would include public lands recommendations covering seven counties in eastern Utah. In the Bears Ears area of San Juan County, the PLI would create a Bears Ears National Conservation Area (NCA).
On the other side, President Barack Obama is considering use of the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.9 million-acre national monument that is almost entirely in San Juan County.
The Bears Ears National Monument has the support of environmental groups and a coalition of Native American tribes.
Portions of the national monument would be co-managed by the federal land agencies and tribal organizations.
If a presidential designation is made, the national forest areas would continue to be managed by the Department of Agriculture.