Bears Ears National Monument in Utah would be a monument “in name only,” environmental groups said July 26 after the Bureau of Land Management issued a plan for the monument that keeps it open to logging, grazing, and off-highway vehicle use.
“They chose the most permissible possible route when it comes to managing” Bears Ears, Bobby McEnaney, senior deputy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Western Renewable Energy Project. “It’s hard to see this as a monument anymore.”
The Trump administration in 2017 shrank the monument, which was created by President Barack Obama, from 1.4 million acres to about 220,000 acres.
The BLM’s proposed final plan for Bears Ears would keep some of the monument open “most” other uses of the land, but the plan doesn’t specify what those uses might be.
“These plans will provide a blueprint to protect the awe-inspiring natural and cultural resources that make this monument nationally significant, while enhancing recreational opportunities and ensuring access to traditional uses,” BLM Utah State Director Ed Roberson said in a statement.
BLM didn’t immediately respond July 26 to questions about the Bears Ears plan.
Coalition Opposes Plan
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement July 26 that the Bears Ears plan is a “cynical attempt” at supporting the administration’s shrinking of the monument, which Grijalva called “illegal.”
Committee ranking member Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bishop in 2017 argued in favor of the monument downsizing because he contended it was vastly larger than needed and was a threat to local activities such as livestock grazing.
A coalition of 10 conservation groups and Patagonia Inc., said July 26 that the Bears Ears plan shows the Interior Department is seeking to remove public lands protections at every opportunity.
“The Executive Order abolishing Bears Ears was illegal and no management plan for these lands should proceed until resolution of the lawsuits,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said in a statement. “And this plan is another demonstration of this administration’s preference for extractive industry profit at the expense of the American people.”
Few Protections Added
Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute focusing on public lands, said the BLM isn’t adding many protections to Bears Ears due to its monument status compared to how the land was managed prior to the monument designation.
The BLM is listening more to politicians than the desires of the public or the market, O’Toole said.
“The whole place should be made a national park,” O’Toole said, referring to all of southern Utah.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry trade group, said monument status for land in the Bears Ears region doesn’t encroach on oil and gas development.
“The area outside the Bears Ears monument has very low levels of development, and existing leases are several miles from the boundary. We expect interest in the area to remain low,” Sgamma said, adding that the area already has “strict environmental protections.”
Awaiting Court Ruling
A court ruling could render the Bears Ears plan moot, however. Environmental groups and the Hopi Tribe sued the Trump administration after it shrank the monument in 2017.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that President Donald Trump violated the Antiquities Act when shrinking Bears Ears, which the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management manages.
“Congress never gave the president the authority to dismantle national monuments,” said Kate Desormeau, senior attorney for the NRDC, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “BLM is now issuing proposed plans to protect these scraps of land left over from Trump’s unlawful action.”
The court could rule at any time, Desormeau said. If the court reinstates the original monument boundary, the BLM may be forced to issue a new management plan that protects all 1.4 million acres, she said.
“We think the law is clearly on our side,” she said.
No president other than Trump has ever downsized a national monument that a previous president declared.
Giving States a Voice
The Bears Ears Plan was published as the BLM is taking steps to give states a greater voice in how federal public lands within their boundaries are managed.
The Bears Ears plan is open to a 30-day public protest period ending Aug. 25, but the BLM is giving Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) 60 days to review it.
Herbert opposed the creation of the monument and signed state legislation in 2012 demanding that the federal government turn more than 30 million acres of federal land over to the state, including the Bears Ears area.
“Our office will review the plans carefully and ensure they meet our shared goals of protecting artifacts and ensuring appropriate public access,” Herbert’s office said in a July 26 email. “Ultimately, congressional action will be the best way to create certainty and long term protections for this beautiful and important part of the state.”
The BLM published the Bears Ears plan less than two weeks after announcing that agency headquarters will move to Colorado and hiring anti-public lands lawyer William Perry Pendley as the agency’s deputy director for policy and programs.
“Not too much surprises me right now with regards to BLM and public lands in general, and the attitude toward public lands in the West,” Grijalva told Bloomberg Environment July 25 when asked about the implications of BLM hiring Pendley and moving agency headquarters.
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(Adds comment from Utah governor's office in 26th paragraph.)
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