Trump administration pours “salt in the open wounds” at Bears Ears
New management plan passes up protecting monument’s remnants
Less than two years after President Trump dramatically shrunk Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized a management plan for what remains of the monument. Instead of protecting the monumental redrock landscape, home to thousands of cultural sites, the plan would largely continue to manage the land as if it wasn’t a national monument, even allowing new utility transmission lines and widespread vegetation removal using tractors and massive chains. As National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara told reporters, the plan “simply pours salt in the open wounds of the tens of thousands of tribal leaders and citizens who fought for decades to conserve these sacred lands.”
It’s unclear why the BLM rushed to develop these plans, especially when President Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent is facing numerous challenges in court. Legal experts agree that the president does not have the authority to shrink a national monument, and should the decision be overturned, the BLM would have to go back to the drawing board to develop a new management plan. In the meantime, the agency spent more than $2.3 million developing a plan that may very well be rendered meaningless.
While the administration claims the Bears Ears Management Plan will protect the landscape, a read through shows just how fundamentally flawed it is. The plan only addresses roughly 200,000 acres, about 15 percent of the original national monument. The sweeping landscape, considered sacred by Native American tribes throughout the region, contains thousands of cultural sites that are threatened by looting and vandalism. A landscape-wide approach would be more effective at conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the region, instead of developing a plan for two puzzle pieces carved out of the original national monument.
The Bureau of Land Management considered a range of options, settling on a plan that would “provide for the proper care and management of Monument objects and values while applying fewer land and resource use restrictions and allowing for more discretion for multiple uses.” Translation — the BLM would provide some protections for a few specific archaeological sites, but continue to manage most of the lands as they did before the monument was established.
While national monuments ensure all existing drilling, mining, and grazing rights are included alongside the new landscape protections, they typically don’t open the door for new development. In particular, the new Bears Ears plan opens the possibility for new utility rights of way through the monument, and allows chaining, a process using tractors and a large chain to rip down pinyon and juniper forests. Additionally, though the BLM identified more than 82,000 acres of lands with wilderness characteristics within the monument, the plan specifically declines to protect those wilderness characteristics, instead directing that they be managed for multiple uses and even opening up hundreds of acres for new utility rights-of-way.
Considering who has the administration’s ear, the contents of the final Bears Ears National Monument management plan are not exactly a surprise. When the Interior Department sought comments on whether to eliminate or shrink national monuments, more than 2.5 million Americans wrote in, with 98 percent opposing reductions. Utahns submitted comments opposing reductions by nearly a 9–1 margin.
Similarly, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and dozens of tribes across the West led the effort to protect the landscape and advocated for a seat at the table in management decisions. Instead, the Interior Department cut out tribal voices from formal advisory committees that helped develop this final plan, stacking them with monument opponents. One thing is entirely too clear, the Bears Ears plan is a product of ignoring the public and listening instead to a select few Utah politicians that have long sought to reduce protections for public lands and boost development.