by Bill Boyle
The future of the Cedar Mesa / Bears Ears area is uncertain as the clock ticks toward the end of the Obama Administration.
On one side, the massive Public Lands Initiative (PLI) Bill is painstakingly making its way through Congress.
The PLI was created by Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop and includes the input and participation of everyone who wanted to be involved.
The PLI covers public land in seven counties in Utah, including large portions of San Juan County and significant areas on Cedar Mesa.
On the other side, the Bears Ears Coalition is supporting the creation of a new national monument in San Juan County that would be created by executive order through the use of the Antiquities Act.
President Obama promised in his 2014 State of the Union Address that if Congress did not act on issues such as this, he would. The clock is ticking, and the Congressional effort may be running out of time.
Area residents are lining up on either side of the issue, with local members of the Navajo Nation, in particular, caught between the two proposals.
San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally expressed her concerns about the Bears Ears proposal in a Letter to the Editor in the April 13 San Juan Record.
This week, there are a number of additional letters and submissions. We welcome the contributions.
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The process of developing the two proposals are in stark contrast.
The development of the PLI involved painstaking work over several years, with every entity invited to the table. It required listening and debate and teamwork and compromise.
The San Juan County effort is a case in point. A diverse group of San Juan County residents met in public meetings over the course of several years.
They bickered and argued and visited spectacular areas throughout the county, with the goal of understanding the on-the-ground reality.
Although they represented diverse interests, over time they were able to hammer out a compromise agreement.
No one was fully satisfied, everyone had to let go of their ideal positions, and they compromised.
It is how the system is designed to work. It is the genius of the American way.
In contrast, the Bears Ears proposal was created in a laboratory far from San Juan County. It was created with the core assumption that an executive decision would be made more than 2,000 miles from the Bears Ears.
Diverse constituencies were not included in its development. It was not an open and public process. You had a say only if you were one of the select few who were invited to the table behind closed doors and protected from public scrutiny.
The Bears Ears Coalition may be many things, but it is not a local coalition. And frankly, to suggest that it is a grassroots effort is absurd.
The grassroots effort was the Diné Bikeyah Coalition, which introduced a new concept for federal land management in San Juan County in 2011.
The core proposal of Diné Bikeyah was to create a National Conservation Area (NCA) in the Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears Area. An NCA extends additional protection to an area, while continuing to be managed for traditional multiple use on BLM lands and allowing local participation in management.
Ideas from the Diné Bikeyah proposal are implemented into the Public Lands Initiative. In fact, the PLI proposes the Bears Ears NCA, a 1,145,237-acre NCA which would extend the protections that were sought by Diné Bikeyah through the entire process.
The problem is that the Bears Ears proposal was dropped into the conversation very late in the game.
After nearly four years of intense work and negotiations on the PLI, the Bears Ears was first introduced in a massive PR campaign less than a year ago.
Instead of the National Conservation Area (NCA) sought by Diné Bikeyah, the new Bears Ears proposal would create a National Monument. While a National Conservation Area and a National Monument may seem similar, the public lands involved are managed in dramatically different manners.
I am not sure where the Bears Ears proposal was created, but I know it was not in San Juan County.
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We hope you are enjoying the news coverage provided by Eric Niven. Eric has tackled the challenging task of covering the San Juan County Commission meetings, in addition to City Council meetings in Monticello and Blanding. I think he is doing a great job.