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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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The Bureau of Reclamation Is Pitching Itself as a Partner to major financial and engineering firms, as it looks for financial support to keep 8,100 miles of canals, 76 hydropower plants, 492 pumping plants, 300 bridges, crossing dams and canals from falling apart. A Duke University scholar said after a recent meeting in Denver, “all the mainstream banks and engineering firms were present.” Circle of Blue

A Colorado Scientist Goes Undercover as a Grizzly Bear to find out how musk oxen in northerly realms like Alaska and northern Canada will deal with the new worlds they inhabit as the climate changes. PRI via Mountain West News

Ansel Adams’ Photographs of Japanese Citizens at the Manzanar Internment Camp aimed to show the resilience and optimism of the internees. Did he, a natural romantic, ignore the injustice of internment? An essay looks back at his book. BlogWest

Peer Mentors A Key to Addiction Fight for Montana’s Native Americans The Tribal Epidemiology Centers, of the Indian Health Service, has data showing that dependence on methamphetamine and other psychostimulants tripled for tribal members in Montana and Wyoming from 2011 to 2015. The story of Aaniih Nakoda, a Native-American-led peer project in the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Montana Public Radio / Kaiser Health News

May 25, 2017

Environmental Justice Movement on the Rise in Sacramento Environmental justice, once viewed as a fringe movement, takes center stage as a trip by Governor Jerry Brown to a low-income area of Los Angeles highlights the perspective of low-income communities and people of color. Part of their concern is that they will not benefit from the $800 million in reparations Volkswagen will pay to the state for its emissions cheating. The influence of the environmental justice perspective on California policy and legislature is widening as questions are raised about whether the California Air Resources Board should consider controlling soot as well as greenhouse gases, and how the state’s cap and trade program might be reshaped. Cal Matters

Drawing Meaning from Death, One Seabird at a Time Coastal beach patrols scour the beaches of the West for bird carcasses in an effort to assist with the documentation and research of bird die-offs. Oil spills, El Niño events and the collapse of food systems in the ocean all contribute to bird deaths, as do natural causes. The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) comprises eight hundred citizen volunteers committed to this important task that helps researchers understand larger patterns of ecosystem and bird behavior. Hakai Magazine

The Next Scapegoat for Agriculture: The Bay Delta’s Longfin Smelt Despite a recent spike in reproduction rates due to the rain this year, the declining population of longfin smelt fish of the San Francisco bay — 80,000 found 50 years ago, 7 this year — tells a story about an ecosystem imploding. Researchers hope to find a solution to the imminent extinctions of native fish; when the delta smelt dies out, attention will be on its cousin, the longfin smelt, whose population currently struggle with rising water temperatures and diminishing habitats. KCET

The Ways That Climate Change is Shrinking the West’s Water Supply Three studies tackle the different ways the changing climate is reducing western water supplies from the traditional sources like snowpack and groundwater. They also look forward, anticipating a coming era in which water scarcity is likely. The article covers groundwater, the Colorado River, and snowpack across western peaks — the three lenses of the new studies. High Country News

Gross Domestic Product San Francisco-based artist Phillip Hua’s artwork explores the relationship between humans and the environment, and the environment and economic success. With an introduction by the environmental writer Barry Lopez, the art work depicts the vulnerable place of birds, fish, trees and flowers in an age devoted to the bottom line. Orion Magazine

May 19, 2017

That’s No Way to Say Goodbye. Most kinds of salmon and trout that for centuries sustained Native tribes on the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers — the same fish that sustain local fishermen today — have little chance of long-term survival, a new report says. Thanks to climate change, in the summertime these and other waterways will become too warm or dry up. If that weren’t enough, irrigating crops from wine grapes to marijuana are taking needed water from the fish. NPR

How to Get Energy From Its Source to Its Markets is the question that is bedeviling energy-rich states like Wyoming, and the grid that carries the electrons was built too long ago for too few sources of energy. Minneapolis Star-Tribune

The Modern World is Burying America’s Prairies and the tall grass ecosystem that thrives there under the plow and under frackers’ drills. The prairie ecosystems are pitted against the idea of using— and abusing — that land to feed billions of people or develop tens of thousands of cubic meters of natural gas. The economic use of the land makes it harder to preserve. Undark

The Good News for Reducing Methane Emissions is that forest soils are methane sinks. The bad news: the trees growing from the soil emit methane through their trunks, meaning the net good of forests in curbing emissions is less than once thought. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Shaking Up Serenity in national parks, drones have become an obstacle to everything from human meditation to animal communication. The Guardian

May 10, 2017

Blackfeet Nation Approves Water Compact An historic agreement between members of the Blackfeet Nation, Montana and the U.S. government both ensures and quantifies water access for the tribe. The compact and Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act also provide for federal funding for water infrastructure. About 75 percent of the voters on the reservation approved the measure, which could ensure control of water supplies for coming generations. The newspaper piece describes the overall framework; the Blackfeet Nation story gets into the details of the agreement Flathead Beacon

What’s Really Killing King Coal? While some argue that the main culprit is the rise in renewable energy usage, this piece makes a case for natural gas as the primary cause of coal’s demise. Citing the agility and cheapness of natural gas and a change in cycles of energy use, the author describes the current need for flexible grids, showing how natural gas rose with some help from the federal government to meet the challenge of ensuring consistent energy output when the inputs are variable. High Country News

100 Million Dead Trees: A Danger That Persists Long After the Drought An explanation of the link between water scarcity and wildfire emerges in an illuminating conversation with Scott Stephens, a fire scientist at U.C. Berkeley. While the end of the California drought signals relief, if not celebration, for many water users, Stephens warns of the dangers of dead trees: forest corpses left behind as fodder for summer’s inevitable wildfires.
Water Deeply

The Path of the Unseen Whale emerges in the form of traceable prints that linger for minutes upon the water surface. Historically, the “flukeprints” were used to identify the last place a whale emerged during a hunt, and they provide a map of underwater activity. This article uses a short and sweet animation to explain the science behind these indicators of whale activity. Hakai Magazine

California Submerging: Rising Seas Are Claiming its Famed Coast Faster than Imagined Based on the findings of a recent report commissioned by the state, this piece looks at the expected impact of rising sea level on California’s coastal regions. It confronts the overwhelming projections with a view to how cities, towns, and neighborhoods along the coast will be affected. Cal Matters

April 18, 2017

California Isn’t Accounting for this Major Emitter. Methane emissions from hydropower have evaded state emissions budgets for some time, despite the release of significant amounts of this potent greenhouse gas owing to plant decomposition in reservoirs and lakes. California’s failure to account methane emissions from hydropower presents a blind spot in the state’s fight against climate change. High Country News

NASA Is Digging in the Snow to Help the West Manage its Water. NASA’s latest earth explorations include the SnowEx project, an effort to figure out how much water is stored in the planet’s snow cover. Scientists measuring snowpack density in western Colorado hope to put together a remote modeling system devoted to taking continuous stock of earth’s water resources, with potentially far-reaching economic implications for water management. Five Thirty Eight

Court Rules California Climate Payments Aren’t Taxes. A recent court decision in California could help the state’s cap-and-trade program, which requires industry polluters to account for their greenhouse gas emission outputs and pay for or mitigate any excess. Several comapnies wanted the court to declare the cut-and-trade program a disguised tax. But the legal opposition included multiple stakeholders including the California Air Resources Board united to disprove the tax theory for pollution payments. A boost to cap-and-trade may aid in moving California forward on its climate goals. Climate Central

Native Americans Caught Salmon Here for Millenia. Now the World Is Hooked. Small-scale fisheries owned by Native Americans in Washington serve as an exercise in community building, strengthening local ties and prompting rapidly increasing profits for catches. Using commercial standard fishing methods, the Yakama tribe is bringing Native catches to wider global markets. Grist

The (Poi) Power of Hawaiian Food Sovereignty. Hawaiian farmers developing innovative agricultural methods and practices may be leading the fight for nutritional self-sufficiency in Hawaii, an island that currently imports the majority of its food. Growing taro, the root used to make a Hawaiian dish called Poi, allows a return traditional food systems and a path toward greater independence in the future. Sierra Club

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Alan Propp

March 15, 2017

A U.S. Appeals Court this week upheld an Indian tribe’s right to the groundwater beneath its reservation. This decision, which has significant implications for the future of water management in the West and beyond, signals Native Americans' willingness to protect their water supplies using the courts. While the battle will likely continue in higher courts, the ruling remains a major victory. Circle of Blue

Ecologists are exploring radically new techniques to manage tree-covered land in the Sierras, as pressure on forest health increases from a number of directions. Researchers now endorse a “toolbox” approach incorporating resistance, resilience, and realignment to combat stressors from heat waves to insect plagues. This is proving to be a difficult change for forest managers using long-developed management schemes. Yale Environment 360

The Crescent Dunes solar thermal project is the largest energy station of its kind in the world. It delivers power to NVEnergy, which serves the majority of Nevada’s population. Large-scale solar thermal plants, whose association with harm to wildlife has made them controversial, nonetheless represent a massive step forward in renewable energy’s development in the west. Alec Ernest presents a documentary film showing the scale and challenges of Crescent Dunes. In related news, Nevada's 50-year-old Reid Gardner power plant officially stopped burning coal this week. KCET

Hear from western readers about some of their experiences in the American West. High Country News asked for uncomfortable truths, encounters, and revelations from readers in the West, and published a sampling of their responses. High Country News

While most people see California at the forefront of the fight against fossil fuel interests, “Big Oil” still holds a large sway in this state of progressive and environmental values. Both politically and economically, oil interests have a massive stake and wield a large influence in the California’s decisions, which may test the state’s role as a climate leader in the years to come. Reveal

Some energy billionaires are planning bold new clean energy initiatives in Western states. From California to Wyoming, the energy landscape is shifting, and Sammy Roth from the Desert Sun evaluates the costs and benefits of the coming changes. This podcast explores his story. Sea Change Radio

February 9, 2017

Rising temperatures in California could soon spur a shift in crops for Central Valley farmers. While rising winter temperatures could benefit some agricultural commodities, others (such as walnuts, cherries, and pistachios) will suffer. Within the next few years, farmers must either find technologies that allow these trees to flourish, or leave abandon them and turn to warmer-weather crops. Valley Public Radio via NPR

The energy mix in the West continues to shift towards sustainable sources – the opening of Tesla’s battery farm in Southern California could be followed by the closing of the West’s biggest coal plant in Arizona. The Aliso Canyon gas leak led Southern California Edison to search for more reliable energy sources, opening the door for lithium-ion battery storage provided by Tesla and others. Meanwhile, declining natural gas prices and rising costs for coal electricity production are making many coal plants — like the Navajo Generating Station — economically infeasible. The Guardian Grist Grand Canyon Trust

The expansion of predator populations is causing a kaleidoscope of reactions across various western states as locals struggle to balance conservation and ranching concerns. In Oregon and beyond, the recovery of wolves may mean that individuals (such as a high-profile wolf by the name of OR7) may lose their novelty, making them more expendable. Meanwhile, Colorado is cracking down on black bears and cougars in order to protect its thin mule deer population, an effort that has not been implemented without controversy. High Country News onEarth

California is increasingly turning to an unorthodox source for drinking water: recycled sewage water. Since 2014, the state has aggressively increased funding for wastewater treatment and recycling. Once produced largely for non-potable use – on landscaping, for instance – effluent is increasingly purified intensively and used for drinking water and aquifer replenishment. This technique is spreading despite the difficulty of the purification process. Undark

Biologists and fisheries managers in Oregon have begun using eDNA to find threatened species in river systems through water sampling. This novel technique uses highly sensitive water sampling techniques to find the DNA that endangered creatures shed from their skin, urine, and feces. With more refinement, the approach has the potential to revolutionize fisheries management, making it cheaper and easier to monitor species in waterways throughout the western United States. NPR

January 31, 2017

President Barack Obama is gone now, but what sort of mark did he leave on the West’s climate, energy, and lands? In the “West Obsessed” podcast, High Country News covers the wide-ranging and (for the most part) positive impacts that happened on his watch, including the development of renewable energy, the first far-reaching actions to address including the development of renewable energy, the first far-reaching actions to address climate change, and the last-minute designation of large federally protected conservation areas. High Country News

In the vein of the last administration’s conservation efforts, learn more about his recent expansion of Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. This stunningly beautiful protected region contains one of the most ecologically rich areas in North America, with species ranging from northern spotted owls to rare butterflies, and remains an important area for biodiversity research. While contested by some, Cascade-Siskiyou’s expansion is hailed by many as a victory for the conservation of large, intact, and critical habitat areas in the United States. Undark

Stanford’s new data visualization project, called “Follow the Money,” allows users to track the destination counties for a variety of different environment-related funds. Find your county and see how much it has received through the years from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Forest Service Revenue, the Federal Mineral Leasing Act, and more. Or, choose a fund and track how its payments have changed through the years, such as the dramatic increase in mining and drilling funding for Utah and Colorado in the mi-90s. Stanford Spatial History Project | CESTA

The consequences of the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Southern California were far-reaching over the last two years. The leak emitted massive amounts of methane and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere for months before the SCGC was able to get it under control. This environmental and health disaster, essentially invisible to the naked eye, has united communities against the reopening of the facility and given a regional boost to a relatively new and under-tested form of energy technology: batteries. The New York Times

New collaborative research on the Yellowstone River reveals the complex consequences that human activities can have on the rivers in the region. The combined effects of these actions - which include diversion for irrigation, erosion control, and the placement of boulder breakwaters - weaken the river system and make it vulnerable to stressors like fish-killing parasites. Yale Environment 360

As California’s extended drought continues, tensions remain high over water rights and who is entitled to the usage of various water sources. The state has imposed increasingly strict consumption quotas, and has begun to turn more attention to the largest water users in the state. This article explores the developing energy efficiency technology and research efforts in the region, with a specific focus on the state’s economically critical and most extensive water consumption industry: agriculture. The Desert Sun