This Week in Bears Ears News: Feb. 5-11
Lots of news on the Bears Ears beat:
Following the brouhaha over President Trump’s rescinding Bears Ears and replacing it with two much smaller designations, lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee are seeking to use their power to create new monuments through the legislative process - a method much preferred by many Republicans who view monuments established by a presidential proclamation as "federal/executive overreach."
Bills introduced in the House and Senate would move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C. to a Western state. Given than 99 percent of land managed by the BLM is in the West, it's not surprising that lawmakers are considering a change some of their constituents have been clamoring for for years. Why? Those who favor the move believe that “distant bureaucrats” know far less about the public lands which they are charged with managing than the locals who live there. The bills have bipartisan support, but some environmentalists and congressional representatives are skeptical.
San Juan County, Utah, home to Bears Ears, is the poorest county in the state. As such, one would expect elected leaders to do their best to keep all non-essential expenses to a minimum. But numbers from the county show that it has paid nearly $900,000 to outside legal counsel to advance legal challenges related to Bears Ears National Monument and other public-lands disputes. Add that to the ongoing lawsuits related to the disenfranchisement of Native American voters and San Juan County has sunk just shy of $2 million into lawsuits in the past year.
Environmentalists were whipped into a frenzy following the implementation of President Trump's reductions to Bears Ears, which took effect Feb. 2. Organizations from the Sierra Club to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance warned of a Gold Rush-style free-for-all as lands formerly under protection as Bears Ears National Monument were once again opened to mining claims. But Bill Boyle, publisher of the San Juan Record, wants you to know that those fears, so far, have come to naught - and that the land in question still enjoys significant protections due to a host of other land designations, such as wilderness. Relatedly...
"For now at least, the Drumpf administration’s scaling back of the monuments feels more like a symbolic political statement than anything else."
NPR contrasts last month's Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver, in which public lands politics and support for national monuments took center stage, and this week's National Rifle Association-sponsored Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa. While the former skews liberal and the latter conservative, participants in both shows see opportunities for finding common ground on protections for lands used and revered by hikers and hunters alike.
Interior Secretary, extractive-industry darling, and enviro punching bag Ryan Zinke traveled to Salt Lake City Feb. 9 to make a big conservation announcement, which sent the Internet into overdrive: was he going to announce that he had chosen Salt Lake City for the new BLM national headquarters? Was he going to open even more previously protected lands in Utah to drilling and mining?
As it turns out, Zinke was in town to announce a new partnership with state governments and private landowners to improve migratory corridors for wildlife - in essence, working together to ensure that jurisdictional and private-property boundaries do not impede seasonal migration for deer, elk, and other wildlife. But wherever Zinke goes, Bears Ears controversy follows. Protesters lined the streets of Salt Lake City, with clever anti-Trump/Zinke, pro-Bears Ears signs at the ready.
Shake your head at the self-defeating tactics of these pro-Bears Ears advocates and savor the irony of anarchists who showed their support for protecting oft-looted and vandalized cultural sites by...committing an act of vandalism.