Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee tackles sticky issues at first meetings
The Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee (MAC) met for two days on June 5-6 at the Hideout Community Center in Monticello.
It was the first meeting of the group, which consists of 15 people appointed by the Department of the Interior.
The group members were selected to represent a variety of interested groups and perspectives.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) helped organize the meeting, along with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service.
The MAC selected San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams to lead the team as chairman, with Ryan Benally as the vice chairman.
Over two days of meetings, the MAC organized itself, heard a wide variety of public comment, and began the task of providing direction in the development of a management plan for the monument.
The group will hold its next meeting in the fall, with an anticipated three or four meetings a year.
Before the next meeting, the BLM intends to submit a draft management plan, which will include a proposed plan and a final Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
Lance Porter, the BLM District Manager, said the draft plan will be released “hopefully in the next few weeks.”
With the looming release of the draft plan, the MAC group expressed some concern about the agency “getting ahead” of the MAC.
However, the group was able to address a number of areas in the management plan, including the two most controversial topics: cultural resources and recreation.
While the group ran out of time to address every issue, BLM officials said that they had a good feel for the concerns of the MAC members.
“Even though they did not make a specific recommendation in the alternative section on some parts, they did give us a lot of information about their priorities and the things that are important to them,” said Ed Roberson, Utah State Director of the BLM.
“We will be able to infuse the plan quite a bit with what they came up with.”
Overall, BLM officials were pleased with the meetings.
“It was an incredible meeting,” said Roberson. “The MAC members came prepared.
“They are all passionate about the Bears Ears, about San Juan County, and about the resources and the constituencies they represent.”
Roberson added, “They really did their homework. They were referencing pieces of the draft plan and the EIS that we have.”
The group did not reach full consensus on a number of key areas, and differed from BLM alternatives in some cases. There were split votes on several proposals, with the group reflecting a variety of viewpoints.
In several items, the MAC signaled an interest in greater protection and in other items that they wanted more flexibility.
The group faces a daunting task to provide public input into an issue that is very polarized.
In fact, some of those who made public comment addressed what they said is a lack of representation of supporters of the initial monument designation.
They state that the MAC group is neither “fair” or “balanced.” The initial monument designation stated that the MAC group should “consist of a fair and balanced representation of interested stakeholders.”
“Bears Ears was set aside for a purpose,” said Jonah Yellowman, who serves on the Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB) board. “Have respect for our people, our medicine people. For all tribes who came together for this.”
UDB Chairman Davis Filfred stated, “Clearly this MAC committee does not hold a vision for the future of Bears Ears.
“Nor have they attempted to listen to the needs and desires of their neighbors among the ten Native American communities in San Juan County or the Utes and Pueblos who hold ancestral ties here.
“Tourism and mining alone are not the answer. UDB believes following the lead of local Native youth and elders is the best way forward. Of course that assumes that those in power decide to listen.”
BLM officials stated that the MAC group did well tackling this significant challenge.
“This group is really balanced,” said Lance Porter. “They received comments across the board during the public comment period and this team referenced these comments.
“You could see them struggling with the same issues that the agencies struggle with.”
The initial monument designation created a Bears Ears Commission to address Native American issues.
When the monument was downsized, the Bears Ears Commission became the Shash Jaa Commission. The Shash Jaa Commission has not been active.
Roberson said he plans “to go to the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition on June 20 and see if they would be willing to come together. I think they are missing an incredible opportunity to work with us.”
Roberson said that during the public comment period, “we did hear from the local tribal interests. They want to make sure that we hear them.”
“The big question,” said Roberson, “is how do we balance San Juan County residents’ interests with the national interest?”