Bears Ears in the News: Change and Controversy at the BLM

Bears Ears Country Comb Ridge

Before we dive in to the latest Bears Ears news, here’s a brief refresher that places the current controversies surrounding the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in context:

The BLM is tasked with managing millions of acres of public lands across the country, the vast majority of which are in the Western half of the U.S. This mandate also includes managing the minerals on public lands.

The agency oversees parcels within both incarnations of Bears Ears National Monument: the 1.35-million acre monument declared by Barack Obama in December 2016, and the much-reduced version created by President Trump in December 2017. A diverse coalition of Native American tribes, outdoor recreation groups, conservationists, and the outdoor retailer Patagonia are suing the Trump administration, arguing that a president does not have the authority to reduce a monument created by their predecessor.

Bears Ears Map Proclamation and with Trump boundaries

In the original proclamation for Bears Ears National Monument, management of the land within the monument’s borders fell to the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. The BLM was to work in conjunction with residents of the Bears Ears region as well as representatives from the five tribes of the Inter-Tribal Coalition that advocated for the monument to develop a plan that included recommendations for motorized and non-motorized recreation; protection for archaeological and cultural resources; and other uses, such as hunting and wood gathering. When Trump reduced the monument, he also scrubbed the original monument management plan.

Which brings us to this:

Environmentalists, tribes blast Utah national monument plan - KUTV, 7/27/19

The Trump-era BLM’s monument management plan has been released, and many individuals and groups are displeased with both the results and the process. Perhaps the most controversial component of the plan is its opening large swaths of archaeologically significant land to off-road vehicle use - something both conservationists and Native peoples see as insulting to tribes and dangerous for fragile landscapes.

But this isn’t the only story keeping the BLM in the headlines. The Washington Post has a doozy of a story on the agency’s just-named acting director, William Perry Pendley:

Trump’s pick for managing federal lands doesn’t believe the federal government should have any - The Washington Post, 7/31/19

Pendley is making headlines because he believes the federal government - his new employer - should not be in the business of owning and managing public land. If you think this might be a problematic situation, you’re not alone.

Meanwhile, the inquiries into malfeasance at the Department of the Interior continue apace.

New Documents Reveal More About Alleged Ethics Violations at the Department of the Interior - Pacific Standard, 8/6/19

This in-depth piece uses documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that show the connection between Interior officials, the Koch brothers, and the campaign to “rein in” Bears Ears National Monument.