A day after Utah filed a lawsuit to erase the restored boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday launched the planning process for the 1.4 million-acre monument in partnership with the five tribes who lobbied to protect this archaeologically rich landscape encircling Cedar Mesa.
Last October, President Joe Biden restored the monument’s original footprint in San Juan County, along with that of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Trump cut 2 million acres from monuments using the same law — the Antiquities Act of 1906 — that Biden would later use to return that acreage to monument status. The future of those lands became even more uncertain on Wednesday when political leaders in Utah filed a federal lawsuit to overturn Biden’s order and seek an injunction preventing the administration from taking any action to put implement monument designations.
Led by Attorney General Sean Reyes, the heads of state allege the Antiquities Act does not allow presidents to designate major monuments – despite a century of case law upholding major landmark designations starting with the Grand Canyon in a 1920 Supreme Court decision.
Kane and Garfield counties are co-plaintiffs in the Utah lawsuit, but not San Juan County, whose county commission voted to restore Bears Ears. Meanwhile, the state is negotiating with the Department of the Interior to exchange 100,000 acres of trust land inside the monument for federal land elsewhere in the state.
Thursday’s BLM announcement is an important step toward creating a Bears Ears monument, which has largely functioned only as a nominal monument since President Barack Obama named it in 2016. The agency launched a similar process last month for the restored Grand Staircase monument and is accepting public comments until September 27.
“It shows they’re moving forward,” said Laura Peterson, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It is time to draw up a management plan for these monuments.”
Governor Spencer Cox’s office was unable to comment immediately on Thursday.
The Bears Ears plan would replace the one the BLM and the Forest Service designed for the scaled-down version of Trump’s 200,000-acre monument, confined to two non-contiguous units at Comb Ridge and Indian Creek. Now the monument spans Elk Ridge, Cedar Mesa, Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch, and Valley of the Gods, not to mention its namesake Bears Ears Buttes.
Native Americans hold the land sacred, and five tribes with cultural and ancestral ties to its canyons and mesa hold co-management authority.
“This new management planning process provides an opportunity to learn from our past planning efforts and ensure that the monument’s 1.36 million acres of public land receive the appropriate protections,” said Greg Sheehan. , state director of BLM Utah. “The new presidential proclamation provides a framework for the management of the monument, but the public can help us determine how best to implement it. Feedback at this stage will help inform issues considered during the planning process and decisions made in the final management plan. »
The BLM will announce a series of scoping meetings in the coming weeks. The public has until October 31 to submit comments, or 15 days after the last public meeting, whichever is later.
The main objectives of the plan are to manage the increasing recreational use of these lands, to protect their archaeological and paleontological resources, to preserve their scenic qualities and “to integrate traditional and historical knowledge related to the use and importance of the landscape,” while providing for a variety of uses, including the livestock grazing that has taken place there for decades.