Bears Ears Public Meeting A Resounding Success
Blog and all photos by CLF intern Jake Glassman.
A public meeting with Obama Administration officials in Bluff, Utah on July 16th marked a huge milestone in the campaign to protect the Bears Ears region of that state as a national monument. The 1.9 million acre area known as the Bears Ears, containing over 100,000 archaeological sites, serves as our country’s most significant unprotected archaeological resource and is sacred to many tribes who continue to visit the area. Conservation Lands Foundation supports a tribally led effort to designate the area and stave off rampant looting and vandalism.
At least 1,200 people attended the meeting, and although many feared that opposition would dominate, supporters ended up outnumbering opponents almost two to one.
This incredible success was largely the result of a huge united effort from the Native and conservation communities, with groups like Utah Diné Bikéyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa helping lead the charge. Some of the strongest showings came from our Friends Grassroots Network, with many driving long distances and rallying large groups. This included:
- Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Las Cruces, NM
- Conserve Southwest Utah, St. George, UT
- Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance, Dolores, CO
- Colorado Canyons Association, Grand Junction, CO
- Conejos Clean Water, Antonito, CO
- Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Cortez, CO
- Dolores River Boating Advocates, Dolores, CO
- Friends of Cedar Mesa, Bluff, UT
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and a panel of administration officials, [including USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and BLM Director Neil Kornze], presided over the three hour event. Tribal leaders, county commissioners, and other local leaders were able to voice their opinions in a few short sections, but the majority of the meeting involved public comments from audience members drawn through a speaking lottery. About sixty comments were made, revealing an amazing variety of opinions, with some in favor of the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) but most supporting a national monument. Monument supporters noted their lack of faith in the PLI, excitement about collaborative monument management between tribes and the federal government, and the critical need for real and immediate protection that a monument would bring. Few monument opponents made truly compelling points, with many falsely claiming that a monument would eliminate tribal access or that only locals have authority over the Bears Ears’ federal land. Furthermore, opponents to a monument were frequently disrespectful, booing Navajo President Russell Begaye and even catcalling Navajo elder women.
During the few days prior to the meeting, Secretary Jewell hiked around the Bears Ears to see rock art and cliff dwellings, and she heard from Native leaders at the Inter-Tribal Gathering why the area is important to Native people. Between those experiences and the public meeting, she was blown away by the area’s beauty and the groundswell of voices calling for protection.
Conservation Lands Foundation thanks the Friends Grassroots Network and our other partners for this amazing effort. We are proud to support the Inter-Tribal Coalition‘s proposal to protect the Bears Ears, and this was an important step forward in that historic effort.