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The Bears Ears National Monument

Nov 15 2016

After months of anticipation, the Obama Administration has designated 1.3 million acres of southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument. The decision, announced 22 days before the end of the administration, has been met with praise and criticism. Here, we present several perspectives on this momentous decision.

A fall sunset over the Bears Ears butte.  Tim Peterson
 

By Felicity Barringer

President Barack Obama has unveiled two major land use decisions, creating new national monuments in southeastern Utah and southeastern Nevada, both centered around the rich archaeological resources of early Native American civilizations.

The 1.9 million acre Bears Ears National Monument proposed for federal lands in southeastern Utah. View a detailed map of the proposed area– and the final designation from Dec. 28.

In the Four Corners area of Utah, 1.35 million acres of San Juan Country are now Bears Ears National Monument — almost 500,000 fewer acres than a tribal coalition had requested. In Nevada, the 300,000 protected acres around the new Gold Butte National Monument lie east of the Overton Arm of Lake Mead, west of the Arizona border, south of Virgin Peak, and north of the Colorado River.

A government statement announcing the designations, which have been bitterly opposed by some residents, included language seeming to rebut both past and future complaints. It said in part, “both areas contain land sacred to Native American tribes, important cultural sites, and fragile wildlife habitat. The monument designations maintain currently authorized uses of the land that do not harm the resources protected by the monument, including tribal access and traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing and authorized grazing.”

As a recent issue of High Country News explained, people of many cultures call the region home. In the 1860s, Navajos were brutally evicted from the area by U.S. troops. Within the proposed monument lands are countless sites with a rich trove of rock art and artifacts left by the ancestors of modern Zuni and Hopi Natives — sites that have been looted for years. The area is also a touchstone for Mormon settlers descended from members of the Hole in the Rock expedition, who nearly died on their pioneering journey to the region in 1879. Its mineral resources have kept it on the radar of the mining industry. A rival proposal for state control of the area had been pending in Congress.

The Dec. 28 announcement prompted the swift release of angry statements — collected by The Salt Lake Tribune and by KTSU Television in Salt Lake City — from Utah’s Republication legislators.

Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “For Utahns in general, and for those in San Juan County in particular, this is an affront of epic proportions and an attack on an entire way of life.” He added, “The President was never meant to set aside millions of acres against the express wishes of local communities and their elected representatives.” And Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s statement called the action a “midnight monument [which] is a slap in the face to the people of Utah…”

On the other side of the question were conservation groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. It executive director, Scott Groene, said in a statement, "We applaud the President's decision and congratulate the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition for this historic protection of their ancestral homeland. The Monument will long benefit Utahns and Americans. It is the product of years of public discussion where all agreed this landscape is worthy of permanent protection.”

National monument declarations are rarely revoked. The question now is the response of Donald J. Trump’s administration to President Obama’s declaration. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Sen. Hatch saying, "In the next Congress under President Trump, I will do everything in my power to reverse this travesty.”

Six weeks ago, …& the West blog hosted a forum on Bear’s Ears. Two contributors supported a monument; two opposed it. Here are their views, along with the numerous comments on the debate. Maps of the original proposal and the final boundaries are also available.

Debate & the West

Should Bears Ears be designated a national monument?

Yes

Jim Enote
Zuni farmer and director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center

Yes

Anna Elza Brady
Strategist for Utah Diné Bikéyah, a Native-led nonprofit organization

No

Joe Lyman
Blanding town council member and third generation resident

 

 

Reader Comments

Submit your own thoughts and questions by using the form at the bottom of this page. Entries will be reviewed and posted as we get them.

Joe B. Lyman (Contributor)

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

Those who promote the Bears Ears monument shout Protect, Protect, Protect but fail to realize or believe that the protections they seek are largely already in place - the land is already Federally controlled - and that the monument designation will destroy that which they seek to protect.

They also speak of taking the land from the Native peoples. The LOCAL native people overwhelmingly feel the monument does just that, takes away their land.

11/16/16, 8:31am

Kara Laws

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

NO!

It will destroy the land far more than protecting it. And the local and federal government has already said co-management with the tribes is illegal. This is NOT what the Antiquities Act was created for. This is abuse of the act.

11/16/16, 8:33am

Byron Clarke

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

I have lived in Blanding my entire life and am Navajo. The idea of a paid council comprised of representatives that live hours away is concerning. A volunteer local council that includes various other members of various communities alongside native Americans would be far better.

11/16/16, 10:47am

Shelley Silbert

Responding to Why Oppose the Bears Ears National Monument?

Thank you for this discussion on Bears Ears. I do want to point out that Joe Lyman’s piece states that property rights exist in the area, including “18,000 acres of private property”, as well as 43 grazing allotments, 661 water-rights, and 151,000 acres of State Trust land. Yes, there is private property, but it would remain private property under monument designation and would NOT go under federal control or be included in a national monument boundary. Grazing allotments would continue once the monument is declared, as they have in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. State Trust land will not be affected by the monument – it can still be sold or leased by the state, and will likely become more valuable if a monument is declared. Lyman implies that something sinister will happen to these property rights, but the monument affects federal land only and the existing rights on federal lands will continue (including existing mineral claims, grazing permits, etc.) subject to the same management that occurs on other federal lands. One principle change from a monument designation -- federal lands within the monument boundary would not be open to new oil, gas, or other mineral development.

11/16/16, 1:21pm

Kelly Mike Green

Responding to Why Oppose the Bears Ears National Monument?

A Bears Ears Monument is the wrong way to manage this area. A monument would prevent us from being able to use roads and trails to visit sacred family spots where an ancestor was killed. A monument would create more restrictive measures for off road travel use.

11/16/16, 5:06pm

Wendy

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

So many people are only willing to hear or publish one side. Thanks for getting both sides. I do not want a Monument. The hordes of people will never be a protection of this area. They will collect, displace and hurt archeological sites. Asking for this size of protected area when in reality the area the antiquities act really pertains to is much smaller. Federal government should never impose on a people a designation that will harm, hurt or negatively affect them.

11/16/16, 10:28pm

Jean Struthers Los Altos Hills, CA

Responding to The Bears Ears Monument Proposal: A Closer Look

As population grows we need all the open spaces we can get. It is important to preserve the ancient artifacts for the future children to know and see.

11/17/16, 9:10am

Veronica Egan Teasdale, UT

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

The opponents of the Bears Ears National Monument deignation have to rely on spurious, innacurate claims. No one, especially Native Americans, will lose access, the antiquities in the area have certainly not been protected adequately, existing grazing permits will be maintained, and on and on. This is an extremely vulnerable, beautiful place that deserves all of the protection it can get.

11/17/16, 5:03pm

Amanda Podmore Bluff, UT

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

Thank you for taking a look at both sides of this complex and at times emotional issue. The many different perspectives in the discussion usually agree on the same thing: this landscape is deserving of protection and the status quo isn't working. Unfortunately, the Bears Ears Cultural Landscape is less than “relatively pristine” and is under greater threat than ever from mounting oil & gas interest in the area. In fact, the southeastern boundaries of the monument, which can be justified for protection under the Antiquities Act because of the cultural resources they shelter, are being proposed for drilling right now. Stanford was remiss in excluding a local pro-monument perspective: many locals in San Juan County and the Four Corners support a Bears Ears National Monument. In fact, several local businesses have recently spoken out in support of a monument because of the urgent need for resources, personnel and regulatory protection to help preserve cultural resources that are being destroyed by under-managed visitation, energy development, and illegal off-road vehicle use. A monument is fraught with downsides but in the meantime, the status quo is not sufficiently protecting Bears Ears.

11/17/16, 5:13pm

Mary M Buxton Los Gatos, CA

Responding to The Bears Ears Monument Proposal: A Closer Look

I am a big fan of the National Parks and would love to see this area preserved as a National Monument for selfish reasons. However, there are local factions who feel their rights and way of life would be transgressed by this National Monument being established. This is eye opening to me as preserving open space and geographic / cultural landscapes has alway seemed like a virtuous thing to do. If there's anything I've learned from the recent election, it is to listen to those who feel disenfranchised. So, I hope there has been a process of community dialogue to hammer out whatever compromises possible and that it would continue. At some point, Congress will have to vote to designate this monument and then there will be winners and losers.

11/18/16, 5:48am

Dave Pacheco Salt Lake City, Utah

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

I support Bears Ears National Monument as proposed by the tribes. This is our nation's best opportunity to begin righting some horrific wrongs of the past and start the long process of healing -- for ALL Americans. It's no leap to describe what happened a short 130 years ago, to human beings who lived on these lands for millenia before “settlers” arrived, as a practice and policy of cultural genocide. To merely bring Native voices as equals to the management table over our collective public lands is overdue and not too much to ask. The “locals” in San Juan County are those responsible for the continuing loss of cultural heritage of tribes whose ancestor's graves are being looted and desecrated of artifacts to sell on the black market. It's time for change in San Juan County and it's time all Americans extend a respectful policy and equal treatment of our country's original inhabitants.

11/18/16, 8:15am

Kay Shumway Blanding, Utah

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

The much smaller area where most of the valuable Anazazi ruin are located is Cedar Mesa. I can see making Cedar Mesa a National Conservation area where cultural resource preservation could be possible with educational signage, trail construction, and increased supervision, would be a good thing. To see Cedar Mesa swallowed up in a huge National Monument means that fewer resources will be available for the part that really matters. This will be a bad thing for the protection of Cedar Mesa.

11/18/16, 10:33am

Bill Crowder Bluff, UT

Responding to Not On Board With the Bears Ears Crusade

Even though Mr. Hurst begins by imagining a cartoon character tourist, he makes thoughtful observations. I disagree with his conclusions.

Blanding is not the community nearest the proposed Bears Ears Monument. Bluff and White Mesa are. Bluff overwhelmingly supports designation of the existing public/federal land as a Monument. As do the White Mesa Utes. As do all but one of the 110 Navajo chapter houses. As do the the descendents of the Ancestral Puebloans. The locals are far from being uniformly against the Monument. Settling an issue in deference to what only a fraction of the small, local population wants is not good policy for public lands or for America.

The overriding problem is that the present system is not working. It does not contain the protections that Monument designation would provide. As Mr. Hurst, to his credit, has long recognized, the thousands of Native American sites and the historic Mormon sites are being steadily destroyed through looting, energy extraction (think drilling and fracking), overgrazing, tourism, and thoughtless offroad damage caused by a small minority of the quad running enthusiasts.

There is this long running, selfish thought that being lucky enough to live near public lands means that you get to control the use of that area, even to the detriment of the public. Public land means control belongs to all Americans, not just the people lucky enough to live nearby. This thought runs counter to our being the United States of America. We are not just an isolated community with no responsibility to the rest of our Country.

Mr. Hurst believes that the way forward is to accede to the right wing in the hopes that somehow a non-liberal president will convince the right wing to become reasonable, and that this area will then be recognized for what it is and preserved. My thought is that we need to engage head on with the forces promoting this turning of our public land to their private uses/abuses. Time is running out to preserve this area. As the last eight years have demonstrated, the right wing is not open to give and take discussions. Even if its intransigence takes our country down.

It is beyond dispute that change is coming to San Juan County. More tourists, more off road vehicles, more extractive industry, more development. We need to be able to exercise some control over that change. Monument designation will not be a cure all. But it is our best , and most likely, only hope.

The local communities on both sides of this dispute have the same love of this area. Our differences lie in how best to preserve it. We need to respect each other, but we also have to make changes to avoid being swept aside by the flood approaching us.

11/18/16, 11:15am

Josh Ewing Bluff, UT

Responding to Why Oppose the Bears Ears National Monument?

While I respect Joe as a local business leader, we should all take his factual assertions with skepticism. His claim that local Navajo are overwhelming against the monument are not substantiated by any facts. To the contrary, only one of the 7 Utah Navajo chapters is against; the others have supported protection. Likewise, his assertions of grazing permits being property rights are not supported by any valid case law.

A Monument is by no means the best solution, but it's the only practical solution given refusal by Utah politicians to be reasonable and protect an internationally significant landscape. We have no one to blame for a Monument but ourselves for sticking our heads in the sand and pretending issues don't exist. Far before all this Monument talk, visitation to Cedar Mesa was skyrocketing, without resources to manage and educate new visitors. Ongoing looting and vandalism continues. I've personally witnessed 6 serious incidents so far this year. Folks who have no respect for the law disregard the rules and drive where ever they want. Those who only care for profiting from the land plot oil rigs in archaeological and recreationally sensitive areas. None of these problems get solved by doing nothing. If we as a community really care about the land, we needed to be proactive. That didn't happen. So now the only alternative is a Monument.

Regarding the headline for this piece, this landscape is full of objects. Not just one object would be protected by a Monument or a National Conservation Area. Archaeologists estimate there could easily be 250,000 archaeological sites in Bears Ears. Conservatively, there are easily 100,000 sites. There are many important sites NOT in the Bears Ears but in San Juan County, especially the Recapture and Montezuma Creek drainages. So really, a much larger monument would be needed to protect all the important “objects of antiquity” in San Juan County.

11/18/16, 11:48am

Josh Ewing Bluff, UT

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

I am disappointed in the Stanford Center for the West for blindly following the narrative about local people being against a monument and “outsiders” being for. By choosing two locals who work a few blocks from each other to represent local opinion, the Center fails to provide readers a true picture of local sentiment. Virtually the entire town of Bluff, including it's elected officials and businesses, support the Monument as the only practical way to protect this area. Of course a few disagree, but it would not have been hard to find a local to San Juan County to explain their support.

Likewise, responsible journalism does not simply publish false and unsubstantiated claims. Opinion is one thing, but when Joe Lyman makes easily disputed factual claims, some basic fact checking is called for. Just as giving climate deniers equal time with real scientists is irresponsible, so is publishing factually inaccurate claims with no effort or requirement that writers substantiate facts.

I expect this sort of “false balance” from many Utah-based media outlets. But I would expect more from Stanford.

11/18/16, 11:57am

Josh Ewing Bluff, UT

Responding to Not On Board With the Bears Ears Crusade

Winston is the foremost archaeologist in southeastern Utah. I have enormous respect and gratitude for his work to document and understand this cultural landscape. I can relate to his questioning of government as being the only solution. And I can understand his desire to not have a Monument further divide our community.

However, I am disappointed he chooses to disparage well intentioned locals working in good faith to try to protect this landscape from numerous real threats by supporting the Monument as our last resort, after other efforts (e.g. the PLI) have failed. Just documenting these sites doesn't protect them. It's incumbent on those of us who want to see these resources endure to have practical solutions. No solutions are perfect, but the status quo is clearly failing. These lands are important to all Americans and particularly Native American decedents of those who inhabited the area and created all the archaeology Winston loves. To allow some locals who are against anything done by the federal government to have the only say would be irresponsible.

Rather than provide any sort of real plan as an alternative to a Monument, Winston argues that we should just stand by and watch destruction while trying “win hearts and minds” of locals. He admits this could take generations, if it is indeed possible to get some folks to see the land as something to nurture rather than profit from. More importantly, his argument assumes it's locals doing the most damage. I argue our largest issue is educating, managing, and directing visitors from outside of San Juan County. Winning hearts and minds of locals does little to address this issue, while resources and a Monument management plan could help us create real strategies for directing visitors in ways that will minimize impacts. Letting Google continue to manage this area by default isn't a viable strategy.

I hope Winston's great sense of humor will allow him to chuckle at my concluding line: God save us from cynical archaeologists whose solution is to stick our head in the desert sand and do nothing!

11/18/16, 12:18am

Mark Meloy Bluff, Utah

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

At this point in time, President Obama is the only one who can provide permanent protection for Southeast Utah prehistory. Those who want protection need to rally around him. Those who criticize the monument approach without offering a viable alternative are dooming any increased protection in the foreseeable future. A national treasure will disappear before our eyes. Just about all of us in Bluff, gateway community to the Bears Ears, see the monument as good and necessary. Are we not even more local, than our northern neighbors?

11/18/16, 1:40pm

Joy Howell Mexican Hat

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

99 Billion people are buried on this earth. Think about that.

Are we nothing more than a great cemetery that needs protection from living beings? Or, is this just an excuse? A means to an end?

The majority of people have great respect for the ancient and not so ancient sites. The few who don’t have become a weapon...for who?

It’s like forbidding ALL of the 1st graders to go to recess because ONE is a little brat. Grow up! I’m so tired of the overused words ‘sacred, fragile...’ I know for a fact that MY ancestors would prefer humanity survive, however we must do it.

What is a ‘resource’? According to Webster it’s “a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively”.

So...one ‘side’ see’s archeological sites as a resource. The only one worth ‘extracting’ (whether literally as has been done & is legal for the gov’t sponsored hobbyist or through the extraction of money from the pockets of tourists).

Others want to protect the ‘current’ way of life, for the living, by extracting real goods to heat our homes, fuel our vehicles, feed our families. We have seen the changes, the road closures, the permitting now necessary to cool off in a river or on the mountain that is within walking distance of our homes, to be able to drive a 4-wheeler (yes!) into an area not otherwise accessible for the elderly or handicapped or just plain out of shape! We are sick and tired of elitist forbidding us to enjoy our own back yard. The threat of no longer having access unless by permit...will that be a 2 year waiting list like floating the river is?

We no longer believe you!!!

Bluff is AS close to the proposed monument the way the crow flies, however, the communities who are closer by road access are in this order: Mexican Hat, Blanding, Monticello, White Mesa, Bluff, Monument Valley, Montezuma Creek, Aneth.

Gateway Community? If Bluff was the community that would be affected the most then perhaps they would have a bigger voice, however, you can see that is clearly not the case.

Aside from all the rhetoric...not one bit of it even meets the requirements of the Antiquities Act, much less the Constitution of the United States of America.

America has spoken through the ballot box. The Party’s Over.

11/19/16, 12:48am

Verlyn Hawks Bountiful, UT

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

Josh Ewing, I have never met you nor have I met Winston Hurst. I don't know you so I hesitate to use the term extreme but I did find your comments about “God protect us cynical archaeologists whose solution is to stick our head in the desert sand and do nothing” - extreme or at least an exaggeration and off-base - at least according to what I got from Winston's comments. Actually to me it seemed that Winston was the more level headed one of the two of you and seemed to have a feel for what might happen if this moves forward. What I got from Winston's comments actually seems to line up with what happened in the recent presidential election. Mind you that I didn't vote for Trump and I don't like him... but from what I gather from the media and analysts it sounds like too many people in the country felt like they didn't have a voice and took the “Trump route” to express their opposition to a “Top Down” government and indeed tipped not just the state but half of the country into a “full-on, full-court press effort to roll back government”. You might recognize the quoted parts as a direct phrase from this comment of Winston's.

“One more top-down monument designation by a liberal President might be just the thing to tip this conservative state into a full-on, full-court-press effort to roll back government to something resembling the unbalanced, bulldoze-everything attitudes of the early 20th century. In their deep hearts, I fear the right-wing pack leaders are hoping for it.”

Now following the election we half the country up in arms about what Trump is going to “roll-back” and we have the other half pushing for him to roll things back.

My point is that pushing for this large of area to be a national monument is extreme and a blatant slap in the face of the locals who have lived and worked there for generations. That extreme effort will - and indeed apparently has- caused a backlash of the nature Winston was afraid of.

Pushing for a monument via a overly exercised “Antiquities act” that does not incorporate “the voice of the people” in typical legislative manner is also extreme. And I would not be surprised to see a backlash on revoking the antiquities act as well - then how would you feel?

Using hidden agendas and hidden meetings to formulate and then channel the monument effort through a so called “tribal proposal” is also manipulate and extreme. That leads to the “other side” holding secret meetings and pushing for hidden agendas.

I'm not saying there are not extreme measures and words being said on the other side as well.

That's the sad part about it.

Why do we have to resort to the extreme and the exaggeration? When did civil discussions and compromise go out the door?

What I heard Winston saying is that if one side bullies or pushes the other side too much and fails to listen to them and understand where they are coming from then it can cause - no I think it has caused - a “rebellion”.

Josh, you apparently love the Bears Ears country and want it protected but other people have things they feel as deeply. You want to protect “artifacts” and “objects” . Every single place I know of has artifacts and objects from previous generations and cultures. The Wasatch front where I live has had many cultures and peoples that lived here. So has Scotland and England where my heritage is from. Do we try and preserve and protect all of that or do we just have museums and parks and small monuments to preserve selected parts. Do we try to protect huge tracts of land all over the world just because someone lived there? No, lets pick the choicest ruins and canyons and buttes and selectively protect them. Trying to overreach and protect everything eventually will lead to protecting nothing.

And what of the people in the area? How do they rate against “artifacts” and “Objects”. If pressed to make a choice I personally favor educating and preserving and strengthening the living generation rather than protecting the artifacts of the generations now past. But there doesn't have to be choice. We can and certainly should preserve some of our history and learn from and respect the cultures of the past, but definitely, certainly not at the expense of the living generation. When the artifacts of the dead become more important than the livelihood and culture and families of the living - it seems to me that something is wrong.

I also love the Bears Ears area. I've backpacked Hammond and other canyons multiple times, I've done canyoneering in a number of the canyons within the proposed area. I hiked and driven a great deal through that beautiful area. In fact just over a month ago I stood on the top of the East Bears ear and watched the sun set. It was beautiful but ironically I felt sad rather than the peace I normally feel there. I felt sad that there is so much division in the area.

So in wrap-up - no I'm not in favor of the current proposed Bears Ears monument or the manner in which is has come about and been pushed. I am most certainly in favor of preserving selected areas of the proposed monument using a process that involves the “voice of the people”. And I am definitely not in favor of the extreme words and actions - on both sides of the argument.

There has to be a better way.

Let's listen to and learn from and understand each other and find compromise and a way where both sides can have a win.

11/20/16, 9:19am

Bill Crowder Bluff, UT

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

Objectors to the Monument designation argue, “What value is it if it can't be used?” This is the fundamental position of the objectors to designation of the Monument: a small group of locals' specific economic interests trump all other Americans' generic interests, both local and national.

This is the heart of the dispute.

If these objectors had been willing to negotiate on the Public Lands Initiative, this impasse would not exist. Now, it is unfortunately down to a yes or no decision.

Probably both sides will not be happy with the decision. Is that the sign of a fair resolution?

11/20/16, 10:31am

Janet Wilcox San Juan County, Utah

Responding to Weighing the Future of Bears Ears Butte

Both Bill Crowder and Mark Meloy, criticize San Juan County for not having a viable solution for protecting public land; however, they did have a collaborative solution of what could be done. It was the San Juan County PLI-- not to be confused with the current version in Congress. And “No,” Josh Ewing, a national monument is not “the only practical way to protect this area.”

The San Juan County PLI group had worked for 3 years with all vested interests and differing views at the table, and they came up with a decision that was a workable compromise. At that time they were focusing on protecting the much smaller Cedar Mesa area, and a northern conservancy district. Even the Conservation Lands Foundation up through October 2014 was referring to the designation as “Cedar Mesa” as part of their “current campaign” (i.e. meaning dumping manpower and money into having that part of San Juan County designated as a National Monument.)

Then Brooke and Terry Tempest Williams held a soiree (the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2014) which Josh Ewing by the way, attended. Scott Groene from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance asked Jonah how he felt about the north boundary being extended up through Canyonlands. “The more land the better”, Jonah said. “We are with you.” There a hand picked group of 12 “no negotiation” activists, orchestrated a unilateral change to the scope of what should be “protected.” Ms Williams clearly states in her book, “The Hour of Land, exactly how the evening played out, should you want more information on how that disastrous turn for the worse began.

In a letter Terry Tempest Williams wrote to Secretary Sally Jewell a few weeks later, Dec. 21, 2014, she describes a visit to Washington DC. and says, “The Navajo leadership returned home with a ‘perceived’ directive from the Department of the Interior to ‘disengage’ from a local, collaborative vision.” So don’t be blaming San Juan County leadership or citizens for lack of cooperation, or vision, or a desire to help protect this important landscape. When Jonah Yellowman agreed that the original designation should be expanded and blown up to 1.9 million acres (thus eventually renamed Bears Ears), this extreme environmental group felt free to “pillage and burn” state’s rights, local input, and the reputation of San Juan County citizens. We were high jacked, and made to look like the bad guy, by every environmental web site and lobby group in the nation. It has been yellow journalism at its best. I think it’s time that compromise be introduced back into your vocabulary and into the discussion.

11/21/16, 2:19pm

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Articles Worth Reading: October 12, 2020

California Announces Plan to Conserve 30% of State’s Land and Coastal Waters by 2030 as part of the state’s fight against climate change. The effort comes on the back of a growing movement by environmental groups, scientific organizations and the National Geographic Society to advance the “30 x 30” goal: preserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. While the decision drew criticism from Republicans, environmentalists praised the announcement as key toward addressing a host of environmental issues in the state. San Jose Mercury News

Montana Asks Court to Throw Out Major Public Lands Decisions after federal judge ousted Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) acting director from his post. The decisions include BLM plans to open up hundreds of thousands of acres for oil and gas drilling. In response, the Department of the Interior argues that former BLM director William Perry Pendley took “no relevant acts” to be thrown out. Pendley served unlawfully for 424 days. The Hill

EPA Grants Oklahoma Environmental Oversight in Indian Country. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request to the EPA allows the state — not Indigneous nations — to regulate environmental issues in Indian Country. While the decision was welcomed by Oklahoma’s state oil and gas industry, Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation quickly denounced the decision. “This was a swift move meant to circumvent the federal government's trust, duty and obligation to consult with the tribal nations concerned,” wrote Muscogee Nation’s press secretary in a statement. Washington Post Indian Country Today

Experts Developing Plan for Trout Recovery in Los Angeles. Biologists and engineers are setting the state for a “fish passage” through downtown L.A. that would aid in the recovery of the Southern California steelhead trout, a threatened species. Concrete and treated urban runoff in the L.A. River channel blocks the trout from returning to local rivers to spawn. The recovery effort could rival the return of the gray wolf, bald eagle and California condor. Los Angeles Times

The Votes Cast, a Fat Bear is Crowned in Alaska. Every year, the Katmai National Park and Preserve holds Fat Bear Week, an online competition that allows individuals to vote on large bears, in an effort to raise awareness about the park’s wildlife. This year’s champion? Bear 747 (named in reference to the Boeing 747), weighing in at more than 1,400 pounds. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: October 6, 2020

The Royal Bank of Canada is Withholding Financing for Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, citing its “particular ecological and social significance and vulnerability.” This policy change may be part of a paradigm shift for major financial institutions, which finance and drive the majority of oil and gas development. The bank’s pledge comes after the U.S. Department of the Interior’s recent decision to open up the refuge for development. RBC joins five major U.S.-based banks in this decision to not finance development in the ANWR, including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and J.P. Morgan Chase. The Narwhal

A Devastating Fire Season Just Keeps Going: to date, California wildfires have consumed four million acres as 8,200 fires in August killed 31 people and destroyed more than 8,400 buildings. Burning through 100,000 acres, the August complex fire in Mendocino County is the largest on record, “at nearly five times the size of New York City.” It is only 54 percent contained by weary fire fighters. Increasing temperatures exacerbate the fires’ intensity; their effects are being experienced at greater distances, as hazardous air quality conditions extend across the continent. The Guardian

An in-depth video shows the severity of California’s fires and what to worry about now, like mudslides. San Jose Mercury News

Canadian Indigenous Groups Looking to Invest in the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline which Indigenous groups in the United States oppose. Four First Nations groups in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan are pursuing an equity interest in the pipeline, signing a memorandum between the pipeline developer, TC Energy, and Natural Law Energy, which represents the Three Maskwacis Nations and the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, in Alberta, and the Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan. The idea is to create a long-term partnership. Neither party explicitly commented on the Indigenous-activist led resistance movement to the pipeline. Members of the Lakota Nation and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux who led a delegation to the U.S.-Canadian border for an anti-pipeline prayer ceremony in mid-summer, described a Native employee of TC Energy “a traitor.” Kallanish Energy Billings Gazette

Snake River Dams Not Going Anywhere After Federal Decision to Release More Water for as much as 16 hours daily to help stabilize the population of fish, particularly Chinook salmon, that have suffered serious decline in the entire Columbia River watershed. The plan adopted by three federal agencies won praise from groups representing farmers and loggers, but skepticism from conservationists and dismissal from the Nez Perce tribe. Boise State Public Radio

Solar Energy Expansion Is in Overdrive in West Texas; the state has 17 solar facilities, including 13 with capacities of at least 100 megawatts of power. With intense sun and large swaths of empty land where major solar farms can spread out, West Texas has long been ideal for solar development. Texas’ free-market approach and loose regulations encourage all big electricity projects, including solar. The cost of developing solar farms has dropped about 40 percent in Texas in the last five years, according to an industry association. Texas Observer

Clam Gardens, Revived on the Beaches of British Columbia, are expanding crustacean habitat using an age-old Native practice of flattening the shoreline with small rock walls and tilling the sand to improve aeration. Using these methods and removing predators like the sea star allows the Wsáneć, Hul’q’umi’num, and Stz’uminus First Nations to expand the habitat for butter, littleneck, and horse clams, plus crabs, chitons, seaweeds, and other useful species. Generations of Native land stewards continued this practice even when overrun by colonial settlers who passed laws criminalizing the work. The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: September 29, 2020

Knowing How to Fight the Megafires of Climate Change is the daunting task facing firefighters today. Wildfires are behaving in unprecedented ways and the traditional ways to fight them are proving inadequate. The Yellowstone Fire of 1988 was a harbinger of what is now an annual series of catastrophes. Hotter, drier weather increases the scale, power, and frequency of wildfires, which spawn tornadoes and thunderstorms. Once unheard-of Arctic fires produce large volumes of greenhouse gases; every degree Celsius of temperature rise increases lightning activity by 12 percent. Yale Environment 360

Recycling Helps Rid Us of Forever Plastics? No, Say Some Experts. Much recycled plastic, from yogurt containers to bags and “clamshells,” heads not for a new life but landfills. One former executive told a PBS Frontline investigation that selling the idea of recycling meant they could sell plastic. While all used plastic can be repurposed, it’s expensive to pick it up, sort it, and melt it down. KQED

New Mexico Resists a New License for Nuclear Waste Storage Facility. A New Jersey company wants a 40-year license to build a multi-billion-dollar complex near Carlsbad. It would store up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could allow up to 10,000 canisters of spent fuel from nuclear plants around the country. State officials told Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the firm’s analysis is incomplete, the site is geologically unsuitable and environmental justice issues are being ignored. Associated Press

A 37-Year-Old Public Trust Doctrine to Preserve Inland Lakes just got a new look from the Nevada Supreme Court. In the precedent-setting 1983 Mono Lake case, the California Supreme Court ruled that the public trust interest in the water, fish and wildlife of the lake meant diversion of the lake’s tributaries must be controlled. Nevada’s Supreme Court just took a different tack, saying the state could not reshuffle existing rights to the Walker River to protect the receding Walker Lake. Ninth Circuit federal appeals judges had send sent the case to the Nevada court; it’s now headed back to federal court. Las Vegas Sun Nevada Independent

Local Control Was the Hallmark of California’s Groundwater Law, but a new study shows the local plans tend to favor large agribusiness over small farmers. Only about 12 percent of 260 new groundwater sustainability agencies include representatives from tribal groups or small farms not already affiliated with local irrigation districts. Estuary

After Four Decades of Combat Over the Efforts to Drill for Oil Under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Appear Headed for Success. With the lives and livelihoods of the Indigenous groups of the region at issue, a month ago, the Interior Department cleared the way for bidding on drilling rights. But the voices of the Iñupiat people — some of whom welcome the chance to earn revenue from lands that were once theirs — and the Gwich’in people, for whom the caribou of the region are both a nutrition and cultural linchpin — are seldom heard. A collaboration with of the The Threshold podcast, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal

Aquariums are Accustomed to Showing the Ocean’s Shallows, Not Its Depths. Now, around the world, they are figuring out how to display the mysterious and remarkable animals of the deep sea. Two years hence, California’s Monterey Bay aquarium hopes to create the first large-scale exhibition of deep sea life and the impact that warming and seabed mining may have on the unseen world. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: September 23, 2020

Establishing a New Indigenous Wildfire Task Force is the goal of a California State Senate candidate, Jackie Fielder. As “fire season” becomes increasingly intense, the need for effective fire management practices increases, and Indigenous groups’ knowledge becomes a beacon for forest managers.. Fielder’s plan is based on the Karuk Climate Adaptation Plan, which shows how controlled burns help prevent destructive wildfires. SF Weekly

Recent Fires Destroyed Much of Washington State’s Crucial Sage Grouse Habitat An expert on the birds said that the state’s population of less than 1,000 grouse may have been cut in half as fires burned more than 600,000 acres of forest and sagebrush rangeland this year. Overall, scientists have issued a report showing that grouse populations in nine states have declined 44 percent in five years. Mongabay

Los Angeles Is Working to Turn Recycled Plastic into Pavement and Parking Lots. Three years ago, when China announced it would take no more recycling waste, the federal Energy Department started looking for ways to dispose of the excess piling up in American dumps. The city is working on a project to create asphalt containing recycled plastic and has experimented with the asphalt mix on parking lots and small roads. It is now planning to use it on a major street near Walt Disney Concert Hall. E&E News

The Southwest Is Suffering a Major Bird Die-Off, as thousands of migratory birds have been found dead in recent weeks. The cause of this mass die-off remains unknown, but some theorize that raging western wildfires forced many birds to reroute their migrations, and that exceptionally dry conditions have greatly reduced the presence of insects, birds’ main source of food. Large avian mortality during migration is rare and few instances have been as large as this one. High Country News

Microsoft Has Launched the Second Phase of an Underwater Data Center Experiment , extending work done off the West Coast in 2015 to explore the feasibility of submarine computing. Their Natick Project intended to explore underwater data centers’ potential economic and environmental advantages relative to those on dry land. The findings: a sealed container on the ocean floor could improve overall reliability, given that oxygen and humidity corrode terrestrial centers as they do other modern infrastructure. The team also hopes that offshore data centers could support faster information retrieval over interconnected networks. CMSWire

A “Language Keepers” Podcast Illuminates the Struggle to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive in California. Two centuries ago, as many as 90 languages and 300 dialects were spoken in California. Today only half this number remain. This series explores the current state of four Indigenous languages that are among the most threatened in the world: Tolowa Dee-ni’, Karuk, Wukchumni, and Kawaiisu. It features stories of families and communities across California working to revitalize their Native languages and cultures. Emergence Magazine

Articles Worth Reading: September 15, 2020

While the Jordan Cove Gas Export Terminal Has Received Federal Go-Aheads to Operate, lawsuits, other permitting delays and the unstable economics of natural gas make the export terminal’s future uncertain. Even if Pembina Pipeline Corp., developer of the planned terminal, prevails over state officials and environmentalists in court, the project faces a fragile liquid natural gas market — U.S. exports have decreased about 61% from January to July. ”It is increasingly difficult to permit and build these types of projects ... whether it's market demand or public outcry," said a Western Environmental Law Center lawyer. E&E News

For a Second Year, a Landmark Plastic Recycling Measure Fails to gain sufficient support in the California legislature. The bill would have made it a state goal to reduce waste from single-use products by 75 percent, and required that single-use products be recyclable or compostable. The final 37-18 vote at the last minutes of the session fell three votes short of the tally it needed. KQED

The Disappearance of Aleutian Island Otters Frays Alaskan Waters’ Food Web. Over the past 40 years, more than 90 percent of sea otters have vanished from the Aleutians’ delicate seascape. There, otters are more protector than predator, holding the entire ecosystem together by feasting on destructive sea urchins at a rate of up to 1,000 a day. Fewer otters, more urchins. Climate change makes things worse, as reported by a paper in the journal Science. Populations of sea urchins have boomed, carpeting the sea floor in spiny spheres that mow down entire forests of kelp. Now the living, red-algae reefs on which the swirling stands of kelp once stood are in peril. Softened by warming and acidifying waters, the coral-like structures have quickly succumbed to the urchins’ tiny teeth. The New York Times

Many Joshua Trees Were Doomed When Lightning Strikes hit the Mojave National Preserve. On August 15, the first day of California’s lightning siege, thunderstorms rolled across the Mojave National Preserve. The Cima Dome wildfire turned the preserve into a Joshua tree graveyard. Most of the charred trees remain standing, tangible, eerily beautiful ghosts in place of living trees with their crooked beauty. The ghosts will wither and the 43,273 acres of the Dome fire will be despoiled. Los Angeles Times

Getting California Grapes Off the Vine Before Fire and Smoke Ruin Them means depending on vineyard workers who are largely undocumented, and in terms of COVID-19 risk, poorly protected. The wildfires, which have so far collectively burned more than 1.6 million acres in Northern California, sparked right at the beginning of Sonoma County’s grape harvest. And they’re adding to the hazards already faced by some of the country’s poorest and least visible laborers. Gabriel Machabanski, associate director of a workers’ rights organization in Sonoma County, said “Since March, there has been so little work for low-wage workers such as day laborers and seasonal farmworkers; the current situation lends itself, more so than usual, to exploitation by employers.” A photo essay: nighttime harvesting near fires. Civil Eats

One of the Worst COVID-19 Hotspots Is Now an Epicenter of Effective Contact Tracing. After infections are identified, a team of 35 people fans out after to rapidly test people, isolate the infected and visit the homes of any who may have been exposed. Both the White Mountain Apache and nearby Navajo Nation experienced some of the country’s worst infection rates, yet both began to turn things around, in part with robust contact tracing. “We’re seen a significant decline in cases on the reservation at the same time that things were on fire for the rest of the state,” said one local epidemiologist. High Country News

Feral Pigs Change Ecosystems and Human Lives, from Texas to Montana to Saskatchewan. There are as many as 9 million feral swine across the U.S.; populations have expanded from about 17 states to 38 over the last three decades. Texas has about 1.5 million and spends upwards of $4 million annually controlling them, with little hope of eradication. Florida, Georgia, and California also have vast populations. “Pig populations are completely out of control,” said one expert. “The efforts to deal with them are about one percent of what’s currently needed.” The province of Saskatchewan may soon have more wild pigs than people. Montana’s new education campaign, “Squeal on Pigs,” is designed to push residents to report sightings to 24-hour hotline, alerting specialists in pig elimination. Undark

Articles Worth Reading: August 31, 2020

Upending Plans to Mine Precious Metals Near Alaska’s Bristol Bay, the Army Corps of Engineers Throws a New Hurdle. The Corps, which a month ago said the Pebble Mine would pose no environmental risk, now says it would mean trouble for the sockeye salmon that thrive in the area. After opposition from presidential son Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who have both been fishing in Bristol Bay, the Corps threw a new hurdle that could thwart federal permitting, finding that “discharge at the mine site would cause unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources.” Also, a scientist studying the robustness of the sockeye population reports that an unusual, ancestral breed of salmon would be at risk from the mine. E&E News Hakai Magazine

The Redwoods in California’s Oldest State Park Withstood a Wildfire that tore through the area. Reporters found that fears were unrealized that many of the trees, some up to 2,000 years old, had been destroyed. And a relieved scientist pointed out that redwood forests evolved to withstand fire. Associated Press

Colorado’s Governor Is Focused on Promoting San Luis Valley Farmers’ New Approach to dealing with the increasing aridity of an area that is the epicenter of the state’s drought. Quinoa and hemp replace barley and tomatoes, and farmers form local districts to control groundwater use. Denver Post

California Sues to Block New Federal Rules Allowing Farmers Access to So Much Water from the state’s largest river systems that extinction for the delta smelt and two different salmon species could be inevitable. Two huge networks of dams and canals — whose construction led directly to the dwindling of fish populations — control water distribution to farms that supply one-third of the country’s vegetables and half of its nuts and fruit; scientists have been pressured to speed up their evaluations of the threat. KQED

Three Texas Cities Are Models of Efficient and Innovative Water Use. Austin adopted a 100-year water plan in 2018 calling for such advanced conservation and recycling programs that the city anticipates supplying a healthy share of its future water demand by reengineering its water system as a water collection and recycling loop. El Paso cut its per-capita water consumption from 205 gallons daily 30 years ago to 129 gallons today. Some of its conservation practices: subsidizing the replacement of water-wasting bathroom fixtures and regulating lawn watering. San Antonio subsidizes the distribution of digital water-flow sensors and encourages the use of native plants to replace the thirstier show species in local gardens. Circle of Blue

“Keep Immigrant Bees Out.” Environmentalists Want Honey Bees Barred from public lands in Utah. Beekeepers’ honey-bee hives sometimes travel to pollinate crops elsewhere — particularly California’s almond crop — before returning to Utah’s national forests to forage in areas free of pesticides. But honeybees are non-native. Environmentalists are petitioning to ban them from these areas, saying they may spread disease and put unnecessary pressure on native bees. Salt Lake Tribune

Shifting the Balance of Power Between Preserving Birds and Developing Energy. A 1.5-million-acre oil-and-gas development proposed in Wyoming is in the middle of a superhighway for migrating birds, and a court’s insistence on retaining federal penalties for accidental bird deaths from power lines and wind turbines. A potential go-ahead from the Interior Department could be coming soon on the project after six years of federal environmental reviews. The decision, which quoted the Harper Lee novel, saying “it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird,” could dictate how companies operate in Wyoming for the next decade and what happens when they kill birds. E&E Daily

A Trout With Feathers: Looking At the West’s Only Aquatic Songbird. A photo essay on dippers, small gray birds that bob up and down on rocks, dive into streams, and resurface with insects in their beaks. Audubon Magazine

Articles Worth Reading: August 17, 2020

Final Approval to Drill Arctic Wildlife Refuge clears the way for an auction for oil and gas drilling rights on the 1/6 million-acre plain. Four decades of fights over the refuge have paralleled four decades of science showing the burning of fossil fuels is heating the air and the oceans and changing the climate. These changes may make it difficult to sustain the infrastructure needed for drilling. Elsewhere in Alaska, ConocoPhillips is using “chillers” to keep the warming climate from thawing the tundra under its Willow oil drilling platform on the North Slope. Washington Post Bloomberg News

California Heat Sets Records, Creates Rolling Blackouts As Fires Spawn Firenados. The combination of intense heat, dry vegetation and lightning storms has the state struggling on several fronts. The unusual and extreme phenomenon of a fire-generated tornado occurred on August 15 in the Lake Tahoe area as a new fire quickly spun out of control. A few days earlier, the Lake Fire outside Los Angeles spawned its own firenado. Rolling blackouts hit the state while in Death Valley, the temperature hit a record 130 degrees. Los Angeles Times National Public Radio Desert Sun

Arizona’s Drought Intensified as Seasonal Monsoons Again Turn Into “Nonsoons.” With temperatures in Phoenix exceeding 110 degrees for days on end and the three-month period ending in June was the second hottest and third driest in 125 years. Populous Maricopa County, including Phoenix and Scottsdale, is in a severe drought. The impact on the water levels at Lake Mead, which is now at 40 percent of capacity, will mean that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will receive less water from the Colorado River. Arizona Water News Arizona Republic

Some Oregon Forest Land Would Be Lost as Spotted Owl Habitat if a federal Fish and Wildlife Service proposal becomes final. The proposal would take 204,653 acres, or 2 percent of the total of 9.6 Million Acres, from the area of ancient forests designated as critical habitat and set aside as habitat for the endangered owl. Oregon Public Broadcasting

With Ice Disappearing, Pacific Walruses Are Moving Sooner and Sooner to Beaches of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. They just gathered at Point Lay at the end of July, earlier than ever before. The walruses had evolved to use floating ice as platforms for foraging and rearing their young. But for the past 13 years, after the first year of a record-low extent of sea ice, they have been moving to the Point Lay site by the tens of thousands every summer. Arctic Today

A Colorado Lab Works to Prepare the National Electric Grid for a Renewable Future. A scientist used this metaphor to describe the challenge of retrofitting the three power grids to let them handle the upcoming changes: It's like updating a reliable 1957 Chevrolet for the complex technologies and climate-related hazards of the 21st century. What was recently unveiled at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado is a proving ground for the high-tech creations and will test the impacts of battery- and hydrogen-powered energy storage systems and large increases of renewable energy. Scientific American

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

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