BLM forges ahead despite lawsuits
Public comment period on new, reduced Utah monuments now open

BLM forges ahead despite lawsuits

A granary in Bears Ears Monument. The BLM has started its planning process for the two smaller monuments designated in the wake of President Trump's decree last month: Shash Jaa and Indian Creek. Plans are also under way for the three smaller monuments carved from Grand Staircase Escalante. The comment period is open through mid-March./BLM photo

Missy Votel - 01/18/2018

Little more than a month after a presidential proclamation radically reducing two southern Utah national monuments, the BLM is moving ahead with the planning process.

On Fri., Jan. 12, the BLM announced the beginning of a 60-day comment period on the newly shrunken Bears Ears and Grand Staircase/Escalante national monuments. The period will also include a series of scoping meetings. Public comment will be used to craft management plans for a series of smaller monuments that will replace the original ones.

President Trump’s Dec. 4, 2017, proclamation reduced the 1.9 million-acre GSENM by 800,000 acres into three units: the 211,983-acre Grand Staircase; the 551,117-acre Kaiparowits; and the 243,241-acre Escalante Canyons. In addition, the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears was slashed by 1.1 million acres, into the 142,337-acre Shash Jaa and 86,447-acre Indian Creek monuments. 

According to a news release from the Utah BLM, the proclamations modified the existing boundaries “to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of important objects of historic and scientific interest.” The action is part of a larger effort by Trump “to ensure that the broad powers granted under the Antiquities Act are not used as a tool to unnecessarily restrict access to public land on a large scale.” 

In addition, the new land use plans will “provide clarity to the public on how they can enjoy” the monuments. Furthermore, the planning efforts are seen by the BLM as an opportunity to “enhance relationships with the State of Utah and local communities.”

The dates and locations of the scoping meetings will be announced at least 15 days in advance via the BLM website, www.blm.gov/utah. There will be more chances to comment on the plans once the draft EIS’ are released.

• For Shash Jaa/Indian Creek, comments can be submitted via email blm_ut_monticello_monuments@blm.gov; ePlanning: goo.gl/uLrEae; or mail, P.O. Box 7, Monticello, UT 84535. For more information, contact Lance Porter, district manager at (435) 259-2100.

• For GSENM, comments can be submitted by email: BLM_UT_CCD_monuments@blm.gov; ePlanning: goo.gl/EH

vhbc; or mail, 669 S Hwy 89A, Kanab, UT 84741. For more information, contact Matthew Betenson, associate monument manager at (435) 644-1200.

Commenters should include their address, phone number and e-mail address. Comments – including personal information – will become part of the public record. The BLM will accept comments 60 days from Jan. 12, or 15 days after the last scheduled scoping meeting, whichever is later.

The decision to move forward with the planning was met with criticism from environmental groups because Trump’s actions are facing numerous legal challenges.

“The BLM’s rush to act is irresponsible,” Phil Hanceford, of the Wilderness Society, told the Deseret News.

“We fully expect these new proclamations to be overturned by the courts, making these planning efforts a colossal waste of time and money for an already strapped agency.”

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance also condemned the move. “It is absurd for Secretary (Ryan) Zinke to double down on President Trump’s illegal proclamations by instructing the Bureau of Land Management to rush forward writing management plans for monuments that will inevitably be overturned,” Scott Groene, SUWA’s executive director, said. 

Some citizens from communities neighboring the monuments also voiced opposition to the shrinkage. Last year, residents of Kanab, Utah, overwhelmingly spoke out against a City Council resolution in support of shrinking the monument, according to a report in the Southern Utah News.

“Why make a public statement that could undermine our all-important tourist industry?” one attendee questioned.

Meanwhile, a bill to formalize the creation of the Shash Jaa and Indian Creek monuments was introduced in the House on Jan. 9 by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah. According to Curtis, HR 4532 would create the first tribally managed national monument and give tribes a clear management role rather than the advisory role granted in the old monument.

Four people testified on the bill: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert; Bears Ears Commissioner and member of the Ute Indian Tribe, Shaun Chapoose; Matt Anderson of the conservative Salt Lake think tank the Sutherland Institute; and San Juan County resident and Ute Mountain Ute tribal member Suzette Morris, of White Mesa. 

Chapoose, who was involved with the formation of the original monument, has come out strongly against the new bill, saying it “pours salt on the wound” created when Trump shrunk the monument. He also said tribes had not been consulted by the administration on creation of the new monuments.

However, according to Monticello’s San Juan Record, Morris spoke in favor of the new bill. “No one cares for the land more than we do... The people who live closest to the land.”

According to the Record, she added that the bill, “finally empowers the voices who have been silenced in this debate, the voices of the local tribes who actually live in San Juan County.”

San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally also issued a statement in favor of the new bill. “By supporting H.R. 4532, you are listening to a group that has been silenced for too long and finally allowing us a seat at that table,” she said. “We all come from different backgrounds, but we want the same results. We want land that is well managed, protected and accessible to all people.”

San Juan County, Utah, also issued a statement in support of the bill.