The two members of Congress have worked for the past three years on a “Grand Compromise” bill to settle many of the public lands issues in southeast Utah. The bill, which was expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives several months ago, is an attempt to find room around the table for all of the interested parties and find a compromise agreement.
As 2016 begins, there is still no sign of the bill and supporters of the effort are beginning to become nervous. A looming deadline is the close of the Obama administration at the end of the year.
In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama threatened the use executive action under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally declare national monuments. It is thought that Obama may act if Congress fails to proceed.
Supporters of the proposed Bear Ears National Monument announced on December 31 that they have lost patience and are discontinuing discussions with the Congressmen over including tribal objectives in the proposed bill.
The Bears Ears proposal is to create a 1.9-million acre national monument on a massive section of public land in and around the Bears Ears in central San Juan County. The proposal has the support of Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Navajo, Ute and Zuni tribes.
The proposal was first introduced to the public this summer, just as San Juan County was finalizing an exhaustive multi-year process to develop its own recommendation.
The county created a Public Lands Council that worked behind the scenes to develop a recommendation for the bill. After dozens of meetings and several series of public hearings, the county submitted a proposal that included the support of all three Commissioners.
County officials state that the local process was exhaustive and as inclusive as possible. “We needed to balance the requests of everyone,” said one county official. “Our recommendation includes Native American interests, as well as grazing, recreation, mining, and wilderness. We invited participation and input from every party and tried to get everyone to the table.”
The Bears Ears Coalition tells a different story, stating that “the tribes also faced outright discrimination by the San Juan County Commission. The Commission promised to include the tribal proposal in its citizen survey, but then reneged.”
Bears Ears supporters claim that “a write-in campaign ensued and the tribal proposal received an overwhelming 64 percent of the votes. The Commission then recommended an industry-supported proposal which received less than one percent of the votes.”
“There was no ‘tally of votes,’” said the county official. “In fact, the tribal proposal hadn’t even been released yet.”
Prior to the release of the Bears Ears proposal, Dine Bikeyah supported a plan that would have created National Conservation Areas (NCA) in portions of the county. The county official said that the two proposals supported by the tribal groups are significantly different from one another.
“We integrated the Dine Bikeyah concepts into much of what we did,” said the official. “In fact, our final proposal includes two NCAs and 17 wilderness areas.”