The Road to 30: Tribal Land Management

Hannah Rider
Jun 15, 2020 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post

This story map is the second installation in our ongoing “Road to 30” series exploring the vision of protecting 30 percent of our land and water by 2030. Here we will look at the ways tribal land management can play an important role in reaching 30 percent protected land and how cooperation around the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument serves as a promising model.

View Storymap Here

Across America, natural areas that we rely on for clean air and water, biodiversity, outdoor recreation, and local economies are disappearing. From habitat fragmentation to the widespread impacts of climate change, lands and waters throughout the country are being lost to development and degradation every day. To combat this crisis, scientists are urging that we conserve 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030.

There is not just one path to conservation. Finding diverse and innovative ways to protect landscapes that support local communities and preserve the land’s specific values will be critical in achieving the “30x30” goal. Currently, about 12 percent of American lands are protected. While we still have a ways to go, strong leadership and grassroots momentum are bringing us closer to the goal. In this series, we will explore some of the protected places on the road to conserving 30 percent of America, celebrating past conservation efforts and considering how to move forward to protect our lands, waters, wildlife, and the communities that rely on them.

Tribal Land Management

Across the globe, indigenous people successfully conserve land and biodiversity. As human impacts encroach on half of the world’s land areas, indigenous communities have developed sustainable strategies for preserving wildlife and habitat, as well as supporting their communities. Globally, indigenous people make up just 5 percent of the world’s population, but manage at least 25 percent of all land, 35 percent of formally protected land, 35 percent of land areas with minimal human intervention, and lands that contain 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

In the U.S., most of our public lands, from national parks to wilderness areas, exist on land that was historically occupied by Native Americans and taken by force by the U.S. government. In recent years, examples of co-management partnerships with tribal nations are emerging — restoring traditional stewardship and accounting for traditional knowledge in management decisions, guaranteeing tribes access to their cultural lands, and successfully managing important areas for conservation and biodiversity. Studies have found that lands and waters overseen by indigenous peoples and local communities are less likely to be degraded by human activities.

The goal of protecting 30 percent of America must uphold the sovereignty of tribal nations, engage in meaningful consultation with indigenous leaders, account for the expertise and experiences of indigenous communities, and help indigenous communities fulfill their stewardship priorities.

Cedar Mesa | Bureau of Land Management

Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears National Monument, located in southeastern Utah, is one of the most concentrated areas of cultural and archaeological significance in the U.S. The land is sacred to many tribes, including the Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah Ouray Ute, Navajo, Hopi, and the Pueblos that comprise the All Pueblo Council of Governors, for preserving their cultural heritage and continuing traditional and ceremonial uses of the land.

Bears Ears National Monument boundaries (original boundary in blue, Trump administration’s reduced boundary in red)

Bears Ears National Monument was established in 2016 by President Obama, after years of planning and discussion between the federal government, the state of Utah, and a coalition of five sovereign tribal nations. In 2017, Bears Ears became one of the national monuments that President Trump attempted to reduce in size, cutting the monument into two much smaller parcels and leaving the rest open to development. Whether or not this is constitutionally allowed continues to be litigated. Despite facing multiple lawsuits on the reduction, the Trump administration has rushed the management planning process, allowing for activities that threaten cultural and natural resources even within the drastically diminished boundaries. However, the process of collaboration and the proposed co-management model demonstrate a prime example of the opportunities for tribal co-management of protected lands.

Moon House at Cedar Mesa | Bureau of Land Management

Bears Ears National Monument is the first national monument that was proposed by tribes, with co-management as a key factor in the proposal, and the first time tribes called on the U.S. President to use the Antiquities Act to protect tribal land outside reservations. Spearheaded by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing the Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah Ouray Ute, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes, and supported by 25 other tribes, this Native-led effort represents a promising new legal process for establishing collaborative management. Covering 1.9 million acres of southeastern Utah, the proposal created by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition presented a collaborative management strategy wherein the tribes and federal agencies work together as equals in all stages of the planning and implementation processes. An essential component of the proposal is the Bears Ears Management Commission, composed of one representative from each tribe and each federal agency, to solidify the joint decision-making process.

“The depth, richness, and variety of the Native connection to Bears Ears, coupled with the on-the-ground practices developed in joint Federal-Tribal land management at this national monument, can lead to the creation of a world-class institute on systems of land management that accounts for both western science and Traditional Knowledge.” -Proposal To President Barack Obama for the Creation of Bears Ears National Monument

Although the Trump administration’s attack on Bears Ears as well as public lands across the West remains a threat, tribes and the American public continue to fight for protection for this special place. As strategies for tribal co-management continue to develop, examples like Bears Ears provide important models that can be used in the future.

Learn more through the interactive storymap.


Public lands and the outdoors, from the Center for Western Priorities

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store