Federal and Tribal agencies sign comanagement agreement for Bears Ears
Federal land agencies and tribal leadership formalized their co-management of the Bears Ears National Monument at a signing ceremony on June 18.
The signing took place in White Mesa, afterwards, representatives traveled along highway 261 to unveil one of the new Bears Ears National Monument signs, which includes the insignias of the five tribes involved in the management of the monument.
The agreement is between the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bears Ears Commission composed of elected representatives from five Tribal Nations including the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Hopi Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni.
The agreement reads in part that its purpose will “facilitate communication and understanding between the Tribal Nations and the Federal land managers to better protect ceremonial and traditional activities within the monument, as well as to preserve and integrate traditional knowledge of the region and apply that knowledge to inform Federal land management decisions.”
The agreement also states that the BLM and Forest Service will coordinate and consult with the Bears Ears Tribal Commission “throughout land use planning and subsequent implementation-level decision-making processes concerning Bears Ears including preparation of a monument management plan and a travel management plan.”
Among the signers of the document were two county residents. Ute Mountain Ute representative Malcolm Lehi, and Davis Filfred, attending in the place of Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
The director of the BLM Tracy Stone-Manning was also at the event.
“We are so pleased to celebrate this unique partnership between Tribal Nations and federal agencies to manage and protect the remarkable and sacred Bears Ears landscape. This is an important step as we move forward together to ensure that Tribal expertise and traditional perspectives remain at the forefront of our joint decision-making for the Bears Ears National Monument. This type of true co-management will serve as a model for our work to honor the nation-to-nation relationship in the future.”
Bears Ears Commission Co-Chair and Lieutenant Governor of Zuni Pueblo Carleton Bowekaty shared his thoughts.
“Today, instead of being removed from a landscape to make way for a public park, we are being invited back to our ancestral homelands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future. We are being asked to apply our traditional knowledge to both the natural and human-caused ecological challenges, drought, erosion, visitation, etc. What can be a better avenue of restorative justice than giving Tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of lands their ancestors were removed from?”
Also signing the agreement representing the Forest Service was USDA’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes.
“It’s an honor for the Department of Agriculture to sign this one-of-a-kind cooperative agreement,” “This agreement outlines a common vision for management of Bear Ears National Monument and protection of these sacred lands that are important to so many.”
The Bears Ears National Monument was originally created by President Barack Obama in 2016 at a size of 1.35 million acres in San Juan County.
In 2017 President Donald Trump reduced the monument’s size by 85-percent and created two separate units of the monument, the Shash Ja and Indian Creek units, as part of reducing the size of the overall monument President Trump added 11,200 acres in the Indian Creek area, near Canyonlands National Park.
On October 8, 2021 President Joseph Biden restored the monument to 1.36 million acres including the addition of the 11,200 acres that President Trump added to the monument in 2017.
The creation, shrinking, and restoration of the national monument has been met with strong advocacy and opposition from various San Juan county residents at different times.
Legal battles have also followed the national monument. Following the monument's restoration in October 2021, the Utah Attorney General's Office announced they were seeking outside counsel to help challenge President Biden's executive order. No timetable was given for the lawsuit and no suit has been filed as of this report.