Bears Ears Monument Draft Plan Published

by David Boyle
News Director
The Bureau of Land Management and US Department of Agriculture Forest Service has published a draft management plan for the Bears Ears National Monument (BENM).
The BLM and Forest Service are seeking public input for 90-days on the draft plan, starting March 8, which will guide the management of the national monument.
The 1,212 pages found in volumes 1 and 2 of the draft lay out five alternatives, including an identified preferred alternative, for the management of the 1.36 million acre monument located in San Juan County.
The identified preferred alternative emphasizes maximizing the consideration and use of Tribal perspectives on managing the landscape of the monument.
A press release published on March 8 from the agencies noted that the draft plan incorporated “input from the Bears Ears Commission, the State of Utah, other cooperating agencies, and the public. The agencies are committed to ensuring that existing uses of cattle grazing, recreation, and traditional gathering of firewood and plants continues as part of the monument’s management.”
As part of President Joseph Biden’s restoration of the monument, an emphasis was placed on a cooperative management role of Indigenous peoples with ancestral ties to the Bears Ears Area.
That input was provided through the Bears Ears Commission made up of representation from the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni.
“The publication of the Draft Resource Management Plan and associated Environmental Impact Statement begins the next step in the Bears Ears National Monument planning process,” said BLM Utah State Director Greg Sheehan. “I greatly appreciate the extensive knowledge provided by the Commission and the State, and welcome substantive public input as the vital next step in considering the alternatives in the draft.”
According to the release the agencies: intend to hold seven open-house style public meetings with opportunities to speak with resource specialists, including two virtual meetings. Logistics of those meetings will be on the BLM National NEPA Register at least 15 days in advance.
“While the draft management plan offers five different alternatives, public feedback will help us to refine the final plan,” said Acting Manti-LaSal Forest Supervisor Barbara Van Alstine. “It’s through these public comments we are able to find the best course forward.”
The 90-day public comment period on the Draft Resource Management Plan, Environmental Impact Statement, related proposed recreational shooting closures, and proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern is now open.
Alternative A is the No Action Alternative according to the draft plan it “is a continuation of current management; under this alternative, federal lands and resources would continue to be managed under existing management plans to the extent those plans are consistent with the Biden Administration proclamation.
Alternative B would apply on-site and prescriptive management to protect BENM objects. 
Alternative C utilizes permits and off-site interpretation and education for public uses in high-use areas to reduce impacts to more remote locations.
Alternative D would allow for the continuation of natural processes by limiting or discontinuing discretionary uses.
The draft resource management plan describes the preferred alternative E as maximizing the consideration and use of Tribal perspectives on managing the landscape of the monument.
“This alternative is meant to emphasize resource protection and the use of Traditional Indigenous Knowledge and perspectives on the stewardship of the Bears Ears landscape. This includes consideration of natural processes and seasonal cycles in the management of BENM and collaboration with Tribal Nations to incorporate those considerations into BENM day-to-day management”
The summary of alternative E includes that recreation areas would be based on four zones including Front Country (19,000 acres), Passage (7,500 acres), Outback (265,000 acres), and Remote (1 million acres), with recreational facilities development allowed in Front Country and Passage Zones where necessary, and recreational shooting prohibited in the monument, although hunting will be allowed in all alternatives following regulations of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
According to information from the agencies under all alternatives, existing hiking trails would presently remain open for use and new trails may be designated. Trails that may harm cultural sites will be evaluated for ways to avoid or reduce impacts. The preferred alternative seeks to encourage visitors to hike on existing trails. It allows off-trail hiking, while continuing to evaluate areas and trails for use or closure, if needed. It also specifies circumstances in which a special recreation permit is required, such as for large groups.
The agencies also say that under all alternatives, dispersed camping—that is, camping outside of designated campgrounds—would be permitted in the monument, with some restrictions. Additional campgrounds and campsites may be designated. If selected, the preferred alternative provides for ongoing evaluation to inform where to designate camping sites and areas and to monitor water use and waste disposal by visitors to determine if additional management is required.
The agencies state that under all alternatives, existing climbing access points, trails, and routes would be honored. Consistent with existing policy in the popular climbing destination Indian Creek, climbing is not permitted on, near, or above cultural sites, or to access cultural sites, and may not interfere with raptor nests. Routes can be closed if monument objects are being harmed. The preferred alternative permits replacement of existing bolts, anchors, and fixed gear on existing climbing and canyoneering routes as needed for safety reasons and requires approval from the agencies for new routes that require placement of such gear.
As for livestock grazing the preferred alternative would maintain 88% (1,194,529 acres) of the monument as available for grazing. The preferred alternative also prioritizes the review and processing of grazing permits and leases, including compliance monitoring and resource assessments, in order to protect monument objects. Under all alternatives, leases that are voluntarily relinquished by current leaseholders would be retired from future livestock grazing, as required by the monument proclamation. The number of livestock permitted to graze within the monument is the same across the preferred alternative and two of the three other action alternatives.
The agencies state that the monument proclamation requires that motorized and mechanized vehicles stay on designated routes. For motorized vehicles, the draft plan identifies the existing system of roads. Certain areas have limitations on motorized and mechanized use, such as designated wilderness. For both motorized and mechanized vehicles, additional decisions on specific routes to be maintained or removed will be deferred to a specific travel management plan. 
The preferred alternative also would limit takeoff of motorized aircraft to Bluff Airport and Fry Canyon Airstrip. The preferred alternative would also eliminate most public access for unmanned aircraft systems, except for authorizations for case-by-case landings and takeoffs through formal permitting processes, where the use is beneficial to protecting BENM objects.
The preferred alternative identifies two additional Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)  within the monument including a John’s Canyon Paleontological ACEC and an Aquifer Protection ACEC which would both be nominated.
The preferred alternative would also include the management of 419,128 acres of lands with wilderness characteristics (appearance of naturalness and outstanding opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation or solitude) of non-wilderness study areas. The preferred alternative would be an increase of 370,174 acres over the current no action alternative. 
Under the preferred alternative, additional standards for wilderness characteristics and lands that meet the characteristics would be developed in collaboration with the Bears Ears Commission to ensure the standards are guided by Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Tribal expertise.
Under the preferred alternative vegetation management would emphasize Traditional Indigenous Knowledge and techniques and natural processes.
The preferred alternative would have the agencies and the Bears Ears Commission monitor populations and locations of traditionally harvested trees with wood product use to be open or closed permanently or on a seasonal or multi-year basis to allow for resource rest.
Interested parties may submit comments through the “Participate Now” function on the BLM National NEPA Register or mail input to ATTN: Monument Planning, BLM Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main, Monticello, UT 84535

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