Bears Ears in the News: "Hope Springs Eternal" in D.C.


It’s been a busy month for lawmakers and conservation advocates on Capitol Hill. Here, we take a look at the most significant developments and what they portend for Bears Ears and public lands across the U.S.

In an unprecedented show of bipartisanship, the Senate last week passed a mammoth public lands bill that enjoys broad support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The bill has something for everyone: 1.3 million acres of new wilderness; five new national monuments in the West and the South; expansion of five existing national parks in California and Georgia; new rules around mining leases that permanently protect land around certain national parks; and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At a time when the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for public lands and do away with environmental regulations, the bill provides conservation groups a major victory with far-reaching effects.

Utah Representative Rob Bishop, who spent much of his tenure as the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee opposing conservation bills, has become an unlikely supporter of the aforementioned lands bill. Can environmentalists count on him to turn over a new leaf in the long term? In the words of one conservation leader, “Hope springs eternal.”

Bears Ears

Finally, legislation to expand the Obama-era Bears Ears National Monument from 1.35 million acres to 1.9 million acres has been re-introduced in the House by Democrats Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Deb Haaland of New Mexico. The Bears Ears Expansion and Respect for Sovereignty Act would not only protect the land previously designated under the Obama administration but expand the monument to the full 1.9 million acres identified by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in its 2015 monument proposal.

As of this writing, a hearing for the bill has not yet been scheduled. The legislation may not prove anything more than symbolic; nevertheless, its reintroduction signals a continued commitment on the part of some lawmakers to keep the Bears Ears issue top of mind and to honor the tribes’ original vision for Bears Ears.