Blanding City hosts Bears Ears Q&A session

by David Boyle
News Director
Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service attended a two-hour question and answer session hosted by the city of Blanding on May 9.
The meeting offered a unique back-and-forth between agencies and local residents to discuss concerns related to the draft management plan for the Bears Ears National Monument.
The 1,200-page draft plan includes five alternatives for the management of the monument, with Alternative E identified as the preferred alternative.
The draft was published on March 8, with a 90-day public comment period open since the time and concluding on June 11.
Forest Service and BLM representatives both spoke about the draft management plan explaining that the ultimate decision will fall within a range of the provided five alternatives. Additionally, it was mentioned several times that the final decision does not need to include all of a certain Alternative plan, but could mix and match portions of those draft plans or even compromises within those draft plans.
Among the topics discussed included a conversation about understanding the verbiage in the draft document. Blanding City Manager Trent Herring asked about the unique and particular language used in the draft plan, also noting that the length of the document could make it difficult for the public to understand the plan and comment on it while also working full-time jobs during the short 90-day public comment period.
Manti-La Sal District Ranger of the Moab/Monticello District Michael Engelhart said that for the agencies their language needs to be precise, but added that for the public with specific interest and questions having trouble understanding language to reach out to local forest service or BLM offices as they are willing to help people understand the draft plan.
Engelhart did add that while the general public might not be exactly sure on precise language, local governments do, including San Juan County’s Public Lands Coordinator.
“Nick Sandberg, here in San Juan County consistently provides the best, most thorough, and amazing comments that help us shape our land management.”
“I do want to assure you that your government down here has absolutely got the right people in the place to dissect this plan with knowledge, specific knowledge of the language we use that is going to be very helpful.”
Agency representatives also gave pointers on how to make comments on the draft plan.
BLM Canyon Country District Manager Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt gave an example of what a comment could look like, using grazing as an example 
“You may say I like the acreage in (draft plan) E this works for me, but the management function of (draft plan) B which says I can improve and add improvements as needed is better for my business because…. So tell us the because or the why.”
Gaddis-Wyatt said that the expertise of users of the land provides needed information.
“While we’re the ones on the ground putting these words on paper and trying to find this range. We’re justifying all the way up to the decision-makers this is why this is going to work best for our users. We are your advocates and we get it from both sides, we’ll get another room like this full of folks that’ll say shut it down.”
Gaddis-Wyatt added they work to advocate for both sides to try and find a middle ground.
One passionate comment given at the meeting advocated for the importance of teaching respect for the land by access, saying that grandchildren and great-grandchildren wouldn’t be able to learn those lessons in Arch Canyon without motorized access as they cannot hike 10 miles into the canyon.
Agency representatives noted that comment was an example of a substantive comment by explaining a reason for certain use in an area. Representatives clarified that non-substantive opinions stated are also considered as part of the draft management plan, although they would not receive a formal response from the agencies.
Specific questions were also raised regarding Arch Canyon including a proposed area closure for travel in the canyon in two alternatives.
Blanding outfitter Josh Nielson asked why closure was being considered after a study by the BLM in 2009/2010 did not result in a closure of the Arch Canyon.
BLM Monticello Field Manager Jake Palma explained the consideration is part of a range of alternatives with three alternatives leaving it open to motorized travel and two closing.
“What’s changed is in a Presidential Proclamation it says, ‘Hey BLM, Forest Service consider traditional knowledge, work with the Bears Ears Commission. Some of that traditional perspective that’s been shared with us is “Hey let’s consider in a range of alternatives an option of what does it look like if Arch Canyon is closed?”
Palma added that there’s not a forgone conclusion for motorized travel in the Arch Canyon area, but it is within the range of alternatives and gives the agencies an opportunity to hear from the public.
Regarding changes since the 2009-2010 study, Palma added that consultation with tribes didn’t always happen as in-depth as done today.
Engelhart added clarification that the input of the Bears Ears Commission, made up of elected representatives from the five tribes with ancestral ties to the area,  is not opinion but recognized as traditional indigenous knowledge.
Consideration for and recognition of that knowledge is a requirement of the proclamation.
“We also know that traditional indigenous and ecological knowledge have not been very effectively utilized in land management. So I would not call that an opinion, I would say there’s expertise and advice, as well as traditional indigenous and ecological knowledge that has come into this space of discussion.”
Engelhart added that knowledge gathered through partnership with the commission is guiding some of the alternatives in the monument.
Audience members also raised questions about the co-management of the monument between the land agencies and the commission vs the cooperating agency status for local governments including San Juan County, Monticello, Blanding, Bluff and Utah agencies.
Land agency representatives noted that local municipalities, the county, and others have been involved internally as part of the plan as cooperating agencies, while the Bears Ears Commission has had a larger role.
The explanation for that difference is explained to be because of the presidential proclamation which lays out the special role of the Bears Ears Commission in managing the national monument.
Audience members also asked specific questions related to grazing, with agencies clarifying that while total acreage may decrease under different draft alternatives, the animal unit months (AUM) will not decrease under any alternatives, and also clarified that while retirement of allotment would forfeit future grazing on land, if ranchers were to sell allotments to other ranchers that would not result in the allotment being retired but would allow a transfer.
County resident Sharon Smith also raised concerns about the workload for volunteer search and rescue teams, and hopes that they’ll be able to continue to play and work in Bears Ears.
Engelhart shared their thanks for partnership with San Juan County, highlighting partnerships providing funds to help manage the monument. He estimated over the past three years about $920-950,000 in federal funds have gone to the San Juan County road department, with additional funds going towards work in emergency services.
Concerns were also raised and discussed related to budgeting to meet needs in the monument, firewood access, impacts of the monument on the local economy, and other items. The meeting in full can be viewed on the city of Blanding Facebook page.
The meeting was not a required open hearing but BLM and Forest Service representatives said they wanted to be there to receive additional feedback for consideration for the management plan.
In addition to online forums held on April 16 and May 2, the BLM, Forest Service and Bears Ears Commission held a public meeting in Blanding on April 23.
Other meetings have been held in Salt Lake City, Utah, Twin Arrows, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The final public meeting is planned to be at Monument Valley High on May 16 from 6 to 8 pm.
Public comments on the plan will be accepted through June 11.
At an April meeting, agency leaders said that the proposed resource management plan and final impact statement will likely be published in October, with the record of decision to be signed likely in January 2025.
Formal public comments on the draft plan can be submitted online at,
by mail to ATTN: Monument Planning, BLM Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main, Monticello, UT 84535
or by filling out a comment card at a public meeting.

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