Planning for the Bears Ears National Monument is going ahead on an expedited time frame, leaving some recreation groups feeling left out in the planning process.
Per the Obama proclamation that created Bears Ears National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management was tasked with forming a monument advisory committee. The requirement for a committee with local stakeholder input was preserved in the Trump executive order that shrunk the monument into two smaller units: Shash Jaa unit and Indian Creek unit. But that advisory committee has yet to be formed though the BLM planning process moves ahead.
Jason Keith is the senior policy advisor for the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group. He said the lack of an advisory committee is limiting the input of recreation groups like his. “Our stake in it was there was to be a recreation seat on that advisory committee … it was a really significant thing that in this proclamation that there was going to be an opportunity for our community to have input on developing a management plan for this place and the implementation of that plan,” Keith said.
Before Obama left, Keith said, then-Secretary Sally Jewell certified a charter, the first step of forming an advisory committee. That charter was pulled off the national register when the Trump administration came in, and hasn’t been re-certified.
“Our argument is this whole process is flawed. They’re expediting this process for this management plan for this new downsized monument,” Keith said. “One of the arguments for downsizing the monument was more local control [and] that the locals know best. [That] they’re the ones that should have a say in what all the rules are going to be for this new monument … We’re already through the scoping phase. We’re about to get to the draft phase and anybody that has worked on land management knows, once you get to a draft phase, these alternatives are pretty well-baked. They’re going to adjust things on the margins, but there’s so much investment in these alternatives not to mention we know there’s been a lot of pressure from about, from DOI on what they want to see in these plans. We feel like they’re not complying by the law,” he said, although the committee was required to be formed.
Friends of Cedar Mesa, another local stakeholder group, echoed fears that the expedited planning process might mean less public input into the plan.
“The Bears Ears monument planning process is an involved and difficult process to move as quickly as the BLM and Forest Service are attempting,” said Amanda Podmore, assistant director of Friends of Cedar Mesa. “Usually, a monument management plan takes five to ten years, not one, but we understand the directives are coming from the higher-ups on this one. The challenge is that the process may not have robust stakeholder input before significant decisions are made, like releasing the draft [Environmental Impact Statement]. We are hopeful that the monument advisory committee can be formed as soon as possible.”
BLM officials said the agency is in the process of forming the advisory committee.
“The BLM has initiated the process to create a Monument Advisory Committee, and one of the next steps will be publishing a call for nominations in the Federal Register. Once established, the MAC will assist the BLM and US Forest Service (USFS) by providing valuable stakeholder input regarding management of the monument. The MAC will serve in an advisory capacity and is not a decision-making body,” said BLM spokesperson Lisa Bryant.
Furthermore, the BLM said it has been working with state and local government. Nick Sandberg, county planner for San Juan County, confirmed that San Juan County has been actively involved as a cooperating agency. The BLM has also worked with the National Park Service and other agencies to develop a range of alternative plans, Bryant said.
“In recognition of the importance of tribal participation to planning and management of the Bears Ears National Monument, the BLM and USFS continue to reach out to tribes in ongoing consultation efforts,” Bryant said.
The BLM anticipates releasing a proposed monument management plan and draft environmental impact statement in early 2019.
Bryant said that public outreach has been a part of the planning process from the beginning. “We hosted public meetings for interested citizens and stakeholders in Blanding and Bluff in late March. These meetings were part of the larger public scoping period that ran from Jan. 16 to April 11, 2018. Public comments, which were collected over that three-month period, are now being utilized to help shape alternatives for a proposed monument management plan and draft environmental impact statement. When the proposed plan and draft EIS are published, the public will have an additional 90 days to review and comment on these documents this summer,” Bryant said.