Rumors point toward possible December 23 designation. Anxiety builds over possible national monument.
With the days ticking down on the presidency of Barack Obama, anxiety is building in San Juan County over the possible designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Rumors are flying over the designation, which could result in a new national monument as large as 1.9 million acres.
Obama said in a 2014 State of the Union Address that he would designate monuments if Congress did not act. His term ends January 20, 2017.
Many rumors look at the possibility of a designation, from Washington, DC, on December 23.
A Congressional effort to address many of these public land issues resulted in the Public Land Initiative (PLI), sponsored by Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop.
After an exhaustive development effort that was delivered nearly two years after the initial deadlines, the PLI was released late in the legislative session. The PLI died on the House floor last week when the House of Representatives adjourned for the session.
Much of the rumor mill surrounding the possible monument designation states that the PLI recommendation for public lands in San Juan County could serve as the template for the possible monument, rather than the 1.9 million acre proposal initially requested by tribes and environmental groups.
The PLI recommendation totaled between 1.3 and 1.4 million acres in San Juan County. It advocated the creation of two National Conservation Areas (NCA), with a southern portion in the Bears Ears area, including Cedar Mesa, and a northern portion along Elk Ridge and Canyonlands Basin.
The Antiquities Act would be used for a Presidential designation of a national monument and would not include the NCA management structure.
If the public lands involved in the PLI proposal were used for the national monument designation, the Abajo Mountains would not be included in the national monument.
In addition to rumors about the land involved in a designation, there is also intrigue surrounding “co-management” of a national monument by the five Native American tribes seeking the designation.
In a December 9 letter from Representative Chaffetz to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Chaffetz asserts that only Congress can authorize co-management of public lands.
Chaffetz writes, “Some may inaccurately view your order as establishing a co-management relationship for control and use of the land. You do not have that authority.”
Chaffetz is the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives.