Federal officials tour jewels of San Juan County
The public lands in San Juan County were the focus of intense scrutiny in the past week as a high-level contingent of federal officials, led by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, toured the area.
They were in San Juan County to explore public lands issues, including the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and the Public Land Initiative, a legislative bill making its way through Congress.
Both potential government actions are expected to come to a head in coming months, due in part by a pledge from Pres. Barack Obama to act, if Congress doesn’t, before his administration is finished.
The federal officials had a series of meetings with elected officials and advocacy groups, culminating in a 3 1/2 hour public hearing on a sweltering day in Bluff.
An estimated 2,000 people descended on Bluff (population 258) for the hearing in the Bluff Community Center. The group included many local residents, in addition to busloads of National Monument supporters from adjacent states and beyond.
With fewer than 200 seats in the community center, hundreds of interested participants stood while even more listened to loud speakers that carried the meeting to adjacent tents and pavilions.
With temperatures exceeding 100°, it took a united effort of local law enforcement and emergency services personnel to take care of the hundreds of visitors.
The public hearing in Bluff featured comments by 24 scheduled speakers, in addition to contributions from the general public. More than 700 participants signaled an interest to speak, so a lottery was used to determine who would speak.
The meeting was extended by 30 minutes in order to expand the number who could speak. In the end, approximately 75 people were able to speak.
A wide variety of opinions were expressed in a meeting that was heated, but generally respectful.
The contingent of federal officials stayed in Moab on Wednesday, July 13. They visited Dead Horse Point and the Indian Creek area, with a stop at the Dugout Ranch, where the Nature Conservancy is developing a research facility.
The group then arrived in Monticello, where approximately 200 local residents gathered to listen to a hearing between the officials and San Juan County Commissioners at the Hideout Community Center in Monticello.
The group stayed in Monticello on Thursday night before making their way to Cedar Mesa, where they visited a number of sites, including Moonhouse Ruin. Then it was off to the Bears Ears for an intertribal gathering on Friday evening.
On Saturday morning, the officials hiked to archaeological sites at Comb Ridge and Butler Wash before arriving at the public hearing.
Secretary Jewell expressed amazement at the spectacular beauty of San Juan County and of the need to protect the cultural resources.