Bears Ears National Monument took center stage again at the June 27 meeting of the Blanding City Council. Blanding residents once again filled the conference room to defend their opinions about the controversial monument after taking to social media to spread the word that Mayor Calvin Balch had added a Bears Ears discussion to the city council agenda.
The Bears Ears National Monument is currently under review. The preliminary recommendation from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is to shrink the monument boundaries.
However, Zinke encouraged President Donald Trump to wait to take any action until the final recommendation is complete from the review of 26 national monuments. The residents of San Juan County, tribal leaders, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and others involved in the monument are simply waiting.
Mayor Balch suggested that he is ready to take a more pro-active approach, suggesting that the Blanding City Council begin to work with the Blanding Area Travel Council and the Blanding Visitors Center to embrace the monument.
Balch suggested that the council help put together brochures and informational packets about the area and promote it.
“Right now, it is a monument,” said Balch and encouraged council and residents to “jump on the bandwagon and accept the monument.”
The majority of the residents in attendance did not agree with the statement, suggesting that the Mayor was jumping the gun.
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman urged the council to consider the decisions they are making. Lyman said, “These people are not our friends; these people pushing for the monument are not our friends. They do not have good things in mind for Blanding.”
Lyman said he recognizes that the monument is a reality, but added “we have another national monument”. Lyman encouraged the council to be careful with their decisions.
Merri Shumway echoed Commissioner Lyman’s statement and asked council to hold off on anything with regards to Bears Ears until a decision is made by President Trump.
Shumway asked city residents in the room to stand if they agree, stating that the council doesn’t know why you come to a city council meeting unless you tell them. The room was packed, and all but approximately five city residents rose to their feet.
As Mayor Balch encouraged the council to take action, deal with the reality of the monument, and embrace the tourism, Councilmen Taylor Harrison and Joe B. Lyman defended the current council stance on the monument and insisted that no action should be taken until a decision is made by the federal government.
Councilman Lyman reminded the Mayor that the council is not opposed to tourism, stating that the City of Blanding promoted the area long before Bears Ears National Monument was created, throughout the debate, and continues to promote the area.
“We never did stop inviting people to the area,” said Lyman. “Our position should be that we support broader based economy…and tourism can be a part of that.”
Eva Workman, a Native American resident of Blanding, thanked the members of the council who seemed to have a “true grasp” on what the people involved in the BENM opposition have been doing and who they really are.
“We are good people, and we have kinds hearts,” said Workman. “The fact that we oppose the monument doesn’t change the fact that we are welcoming people and we are kind to the people who are here.”
Workman also expressed concern about what the community will lose by embracing the national monument, asking, “[It’s a] slippery slope when you are willing to pull the rug out from families and people and livelihoods in order to make money.
“We are intelligent, not angry, but intelligent people who understand the Constitution, who understand the laws, and who understand that embracing two months of tourism a year is not going to fix a community who needs the other ten months a year for our students, for those who work at the mill, for our schools, and for all of the other aspects that make a strong, healthy community.
“How much money are we willing to rake in as pull the rug out from under our own neighbors?”
The council chose to take no action at this time in regards to the Bears Ears National Monument.
The BENM conflict has caused tension in San Juan County for some time now. Either way, the discussions about Bears Ears continue to be emotionally charged ones.
Toniee Lewis, who works with Ute Tribe, and sits in the meetings with the leaders from the five tribes who support the monument, spoke to the council.
“I see the goodness on both sides,” said Lewis, who added that she feels she is caught in the middle of a war. Lewis said she too believes that Mayor Balch’s recommendation is pre-mature, she mostly feels that there is a compromise somewhere.
Lewis added that what the tribal coalition wants and what the local residents of San Juan County want are much more similar than many may think. She urged people to be kind to one another, to talk, and to consider both sides.