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Native tribes frozen out of controversial plan for Bears Ears Monument

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Sarah Okeson
Sarah Okeson

Federal law requires our government to consult with Native American tribes about the Bears Ears monument in southern Utah. But Trump is only giving lip service at best to attempts to the Navajo, Hopi and others about what was once the second-largest national monument in the lower 48 states, before Trump shrunk it by 85%.

Now, the general public has less than a week to file public comments on Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s plan that could turn could add more ATV trails and approve cell phone towers and utility lines to what are now two smaller monuments. Bernhardt has appointed an advisory committee that doesn’t include anyone who supported creating the monument in the first place.

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“The BLM and the Forest Service are asking people who don’t think the monument should exist for advice on how to manage it,” said Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa.

Bears Ears, named after twin peaks that look like the ears of a bear, has about 9,000 recorded archaeological sites, including petroglyphs, woven cloth, human remains and ancient roads.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke trimmed Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres, eliminating Cedar Mesa with its cliff ruins and rock art. He also took out Grand Gulch, a canyon, and other places that five native American tribes wanted protected when they urged former president Barack Obama to create the monument.

The management plan would allow “chaining,” a practice favored by Utah ranchers to clear land for cattle grazing.

“Bears Ears is not the kind of place for chaining thousands of acres of forest or stringing up utility lines,” said Heidi McIntosh of Earthjustice, one of the parties involved in the Indian tribes’ federal lawsuit against the Trump administration over shrinking Bears Ears.

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Bernhardt appointed rancher Gail Johnson who holds a grazing allotment that was entirely within the original monument to a Bears Ears advisory group. Johnson and her husband, Sandy, have intervened in the lawsuits challenging Trump’s shrinking Bears Ears, arguing that a larger monument would put them out of business.

Bernhardt also appointed San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams and Ryan Benally,the son of former County Commissioner Rebecca Benally to the panel. San Juan County, the poorest county in Utah, paid $485,600 to a Louisiana law firm to oppose Bears Ears being named a national monument and then to lobby for reducing it.

Bernhardt did not appoint any of the seven people recommended by Rupert Steele, the chairman of the Utah Tribal Leaders Association. Steele’s picks included Navajo medicine man Jonah Yellowman and Kevin Madalena, a paleontologist from the Pueblo of Jemez, N.M.

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