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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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This Remote Corner of Nevada Is One Of The Darkest Places in The World, and is now also the newest and largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in the United States. Like all Dark Sky Sanctuaries, the 100,000-acre sanctuary at Massacre Rim lacks legal protection. The International Dark Sky Association bestowed the title on Massacre Rim, recognizing it as one of the best spots in the world to view a night sky unobstructed by light pollution. The area is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest settlement and over four hours from the nearest city; its extreme isolation allows visitors to see the Milky Way shine so brightly that it casts shadows. The audio segment of this story is under four minutes and accompanied by a short written article. NPR

The Pacific Coast Salmon That Are Most Threatened by Climate Change travel furthest to spawn, new research shows. Dams for flood control and irrigation, water diversions and logging have pushed more than 50 runs of salmonids onto lists of endangered and threatened species; climate change may be the coup de grace for some. Inland waterways far from the coast, where some salmon spawn, are getting warmer, and may get too warm for young salmon to survive. Chinook salmon at the greatest risk in three places: California's Central Valley and the Columbia and Willamette River basins. Also at risk are coho salmon in Northern California and Oregon and sockeye salmon from Idaho’s Snake River basin. Inside Climate News

Articles Worth Reading: July 30, 2019

Megadroughts Could Return to Southwestern U.S. on a scale not seen for half a millennium thanks to climate change. A new study reveals that the region can expect atmospheric conditions similar to those that caused decades-long ‘megadroughts’ in the middle ages, which likely destroyed the thriving Chocan civilization. A slight global cooling around 1600 halted the megadroughts, but with current global climate change, experts fear a return of extreme dryness to the Southwest. National Geographic

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Goes Solar in a bid for energy independence, job creation, and environmental stewardship. With more than half a million acres of land and only 2,000 residents, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe hopes to point the way for other tribes with vast tracts of flat, sunbaked land to develop and export solar energy. By some estimates, solar energy on tribal lands in the lower 48 states alone would exceed by fourfold the amount needed to power the entire country. High Country News

Coalition Urges Senators to Back Herd Fertility Curbs for Wild Horses to rein in their extreme overpopulation and resultant environmental damage from large herds trampling sensitive rangeland. The contentious issue has brought together unlikely allies, uniting the ASPCA, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the Public Land Trust. All are pushing for a plan that would reduce the wild horse population by more than 60 percent in a decade – without euthanasia. The visceral public opposition to killing the classic western icons makes a plan based on intensive fertility control alone likelier to succeed in Congress. E & E News

Feds Look Again at Reintroducing Grizzly Bears to the North Cascades, an ecological boon that would bolster the top predator’s current estimated population of 10 bears within the North Cascades. The National Park Service and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reopened the public comment period last week, a decision conservationists celebrate and ranchers bemoan. Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke surprised stakeholders last year by signaling the federal government’s support for moving forward a reintroduction scheme. The Seattle Times

A New Yorker Describes Moving to the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado, where people live with pioneering self-sufficiency and isolation. The valley’s several hundred residents live on some of the cheapest and most punishing land in the country, with minus 40-degree temperatures in winter and and no trees for lumber or protection. The profile showcases a lifestyle remarkably similar to nineteenth century homesteaders, and examines what drives broadly diverse people to live on The Last Frontier. Harpers

Articles Worth Reading: July 15, 2019

Phoenix Tries To Reverse Its 'Silent Storm' Of Heat Deaths, which rose to 155 people last year and will only continue to climb with global climate change. The city, which now experiences at least 100 days over 100 degrees each year, plans to redesign its layout to increase shade and create more aggressive outreach programs to prevent heat-related deaths. It hopes to become a leader and a model for other cities struggling with rising average temperatures and health challenges. NPR

California Lawmakers Approve Legislation For $21 Billion Wildfire Fund to help public utilities pay out homeowners in wildfires connected to the power providers. The new legislation aims to stabilize fears that wildfire damage claims could permanently cripple California utilities, making them a risky investment vehicle. Pacific Gas & Electric, northern California’s major utility, filed for bankruptcy after its equipment was blamed for igniting some of the worst wildfires ever recorded in California last year. Reuters

Renegotiating The Columbia River Treaty Six Decades Later will be a very different process from the original negotiations between Canada and the United States. The treaty governs management of the Columbia River watershed, a region about the size of France; parts of it are set to expire in 2024. The renegotiations will retain the original treaty’s focus on coordinated flood control and energy security across the vast region, but will add environmental concerns as a third pillar of managing the river. The new negotiations will also include First Nations and other native representatives who were entirely excluded from the original treaty negotiations. High Country News

A 700-Mile Solo Float On The Green River Led to a Comprehensive New Book on western water distribution and policy analysis, as described in an interview with the author Heather Hansman. The environmental journalist and rafter intersperses her policy research and stakeholder interviews with her personal experience navigating the major river through Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. This podcast episode of the “Go West, Young Podcast” is 25 minutes long; this interview begins at 4:44. Center for Western Priorities

‘Goats Are the Best Tool’ for Cheap, Chemical-Free Fire Prevention – and demand for herds-for-hire is exploding in the western US as wildfire season looms. Prolific vegetation growth from heavy winter rains combined with extreme wildfires in recent years have towns, cities, and private owners across the west eager to clear out potential wildfire fodder. Goats are a cheap, efficient, and hungry solution, and herds are hard at work across the western states. The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: July 2, 2019

A Tiny Creature Threatens Utah’s $1.8 Billion Lake Powell Pipeline. The culprit is an invasive mussel. Concerns that the quagga mussel will infiltrate the water supply and grow inside pipes could well stall the long-awaited pipeline, which is designed to carry water from the Colorado River to quickly growing Utah counties. Utah’s Division of Water Resources has proposed adding a molluscicide (a compound that kills mollusks) into the water supply, but critics fear that it would be impossible to prevent the quagga ‘epidemic’ from eventually spreading further via the pipeline. Salt Lake Tribune

As Legal Cannabis Spreads, Growers Go Organic to gain an edge and meet a growing demand in the industry. Many growers chose to go beyond state restrictions on pesticides for marijuana and cultivate a holistic, ultra-organic brand. Many new organic-certifying companies are emerging to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. National Organic Program’s inability to vouch for cannabis-growers’ standards, since cannabis remains federally prohibited. Several firms provide certification for additional attributes, such as being biodynamic or handled through fair trade. Environmental Health News

Who Gets To Own The West? The answer to the fraught question: a shrinking group of wealthy landowners, 100 of whom collectively hold more than 42 million acres. The new landowners face considerable local opposition when they close down trails, roads, and other spaces that many have had access to for generations. The handful of people consolidating these gigantic swathes of land argue that cracking down on local recreational use of the land promotes conservation. The New York Times

Reining In Free-Roaming Horses to protect ecosystems in the Great Basin region from possibly permanent damage has become a more urgent task. . The wild herds have swelled to over 300 percent of the Bureau of Land Management’s estimated “appropriate maximum level.” As they roam across 31.6 million acres of remote rangeland, the horses compact the soil, consume scarce water sources, and trample native plants. However, because grazing domestic animals also occupy many of the same areas, it is often difficult for scientists to single out the ecosystem damage caused by wild horses. Also, public affection for the wild horses makes policymakers reluctant to control their rapid population growth. EurekAlert

Dramatic Ocean Warming Off Alaska Raises Concerns For Hunters And Wildlife alike as both struggle to find sufficient food with diminishing sea ice. Villagers who hunt in the summer for meat to store for the winter are traveling unprecedented distances to find the edge of the sea ice and the marine mammals that dwell there. Seabirds, seals, and grey whales, are suffering as well. The vanishing sea ice, which has already blown away the record low ice levels set last summer, is linked to human-caused global warming, since it is a direct result of very warm ocean temperatures (comparable to temperatures off the coast of California). Anchorage Daily News

Restoring Water In Paradise might be harder than the California Water Board expects, argue water contamination and plumbing specialists argue. Several academic experts say that the Water Board’s recommendations aren’t good enough to screen for water contamination by volatile organic compounds produced by the fire. How much responsibility the California Water Board bears for fixing contamination is also unclear; most of the damaged pipes are in individual buildings. This regulatory enigma further confuses the question of what the state and the town should do to ensure an uncontaminated water supply – a prerequisite of restoring the community. (Podcast is 3 minutes and 45 second long.) Circle of Blue

Articles Worth Reading: June 17, 2019

Convicts are Returning to Farming—and Anti-Immigrant Policies Are the Reason. Now the jobs that Mexican and Central American farm laborers often fill are left empty. Agriculture-intensive areas such as Washington, Idaho, and Arizona are turning to convict leasing on a scale not seen in more than 100 years. Like undocumented immigrants, convicts don't have the same level of legal labor and wage protections standard in most situations, and are often apyed well below the minimum wage. Although the Jim-Crow era practice, which used mostly black prisoners, was banned at the start of the 20th century, in the 21st century it has made a lucrative comeback. The Conversation High Country News

The Federal Bureau of Land Management Plans to Push a Massive Photovoltaic Project in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas; it would be the largest solar array in the country and one of the largest in the world. Some conservationists object to the proposed location of the 11-square-mile solar array and battery system, which is home to the threatened desert tortoise. The area also abuts several popular outdoor recreation areas. When constructed, the project could provide solar power to Nevada, California, and Arizona as early as 2021.E&E News Las Vegas Review Journal

This Year's Snowmelt Surge Is a Welcome Reprieve for the Parched Southwest, a “complete turnaround” from the two-decade drought that has left reservoirs and rivers running low across the region. Water levels in major reservoirs, like Lake Powell at the Utah-Arizona border, have risen up to a foot a day. The extreme reversal has pushed rivers to their limits, replenished the Rio Grande, and made some popular rafting and camping spots unusable. Exceptionally low 2018 water levels in Lake Powell, which supplies water for Arizona, California, and Nevada, had led to speculation that Arizona would face a lower water allowance this year. Colorado Public Radio News 

Cactus Smuggler's Case Reveals 'Growing Problem' of Rare Cacti Pilfered from public lands to serve a burgeoning domestic and international trade. The smuggler was convicted of illegally collecting over 500 cacti from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area along the Arizona-Nevada border. The cacti were sold online for more than $20,000, and included species that take decades to mature. Because cacti can be relatively easy to smuggle and conceal, authorities worry about the challenge of protecting delicate desert ecosystems and threatened species from the growing popularity of the prickly plants. E&E News 

An Effort to Recover Suspected Agent Orange Chemicals From Wallowa Lake has ignited fears over possible water contamination and speculation about the origins of the barrels. Recreational divers discovered ten100-gallon drums in the Oregon lake last summer labeled as containing herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. These are key ingredients in the infamous Vietnam War defoliant (and carcinogen) Agent Orange. The delicate removal process began ten months after divers first reported the barrels at the lake bottom. The Oregonian

The West's Worst Fires Aren't Burning in Forests, but on scrub-covered open rangeland in the Great Basin region, which includes Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Because wildfires on the sparsely populated open range don't attract as much public attention as forest fires, nine million acres of scrubland have quietly burned away on the range in the last five years alone. There are even fewer resources available to fight the remote range conflagrations than for forest fires. The frequent fires on the range may permanently destroying scrubland habitat essential for over 300 species, like pronghorn and sage grouse, where fires have burned too hot and too often. High Country News

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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