County submits Bears Ears draft comments

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan County Commission approved county comments on the Bears Ears Draft Management Plan at their June 4 meeting.
County Public Lands Coordinator Nick Sandberg explained the 11-page letter contains comments that county and county staff had made as well as input included from the state’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office (PLPCO).
The county’s comments were given as part of a 90-day public comment period for a published draft plan for the future management of the monument. That 90-day period concluded on June 11.
US President Joseph Biden’s redesignation of the monument included direction that the monument be managed by not only the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service, but also co-managed with the Bears Ears Commission made up of representatives from five tribal nations with historic ties to the area.
The Commission is made up of representatives 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.
San Juan county’s general comments on the plan included a comment stating the county’s hope that additional consultation with the Bears Ears Commission would not “unduly add to the time needed to develop decisions for management and operation of the monument.” the comment noted that grazing, recreation and tourism are all important aspects of the county economy and that undue delays may adversely affect operators who work inside the monument.
Another general comment by the county asked for provisions to the plan that would not preclude infrastructure such as communication towers that the county said would be “critical for the health and safety of the public as well as the economy of the County.”
The comment noted that protection policies for monument objects would “relegate the health and safety of Monument visitors, those who travel through the Monument without visitin and the daily operations of various components of the County economy to a ‘back seat’ status”.
County comments also spoke out against alternatives that would designate 98-percent of the monument as a right-of-way exclusion category. County comments also opposed prohibitions of commercial filming and prohibition of wind and solar energy development.
The county letter also includes opposition to closure of Arch Canyon to off-highway vehicle use. The letter states the closure is “inconsistent with the San Juan County Resource Management Plan (RMP) including the County Travel Plan,” The letter also adds the canyon is a “well known destination for motorized recreation popular with local residents as well as visitors.” The county letter also referenced a 1990 determination by the BLM recognizing the county’s claim of an RS2477 Right-of-Way for Arch Canyon Road, noting that while the determination is under litigation the “BLM has continued to recognize and affirm the public’s right to motorized use of this road.”
The county letter also includes comments on livestock grazing, campfires, and water resources as well as other topics.
Commissioners Bruce Adams and Sylvia Stubbs approved the comment letter, commissioner Jamie Harvey was not present at the meeting.
The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service published a draft management plan for the monument at the beginning of March. The 1,200-page document lays out five alternatives, including an identified preferred alternatives, for the management of the 1.36 million acre monument.
The identified preferred alternative emphasizes maximizing the consideration and use of Tribal perspectives on managing the landscape of the monument.
The agencies published a notice of intent to draft the plan in August 2022. The 1,200-page draft plan was published on March 8, with a 90-day public comment period open since the time and concluding on June 11.
Federal agencies now begin their effort to review comments provided during the 90-day window.
At one of the online meetings held by the agencies in April, agency leaders estimated 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.
At the June 4 meeting, Sandberg also presented a letter to accept an invite from the Bureau of Land Management for the county to receive consulting party status for proposed modification of the Lisbon Valley Mine Plan of Operation. Sandberg explained the county has been a consulting party for previous mine plan proposals.
A public scoping meeting is being held on June 12 from 6-8 at the BLM Moab Field Office and online June 13 6-7:30 pm.
Comments for that plan must be received or postmarked on or before June 27, 2024.

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