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Thu Mar 26, 2020, 09:21 AM

"Bears Ears Is Being Run By Google Maps Right Now" - But Court Fight Looms Over Massive Cuts


Tribal members, who make up a majority of the county where Bears Ears is located, have long pushed for greater protection for the site, which is profoundly important to Southwestern tribes. Five of them — the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation and Zuni Tribe — formed a coalition that informed the Obama administration’s monument creation. Tribal representatives say they have been cut out of the Trump administration’s planning for the reduced Bears Ears, however. A recent meeting of the committee that makes management recommendations to the BLM did not have a single Indigenous representative present, local radio station KUER reported. “We’re seeing no meaningful engagement of the tribes by the agencies,” said Natalie Landreth, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which represents the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute tribes in a lawsuit.

The plan acknowledges a tourism spike for Bears Ears. For the still-protected monument lands, local advocates describe a lack of basic infrastructure to direct visitors, or ranger stations to educate them — even signs to tell them where they are, and not to disturb culturally important sites. Instead, the management plan recommends visitor “self-regulation.” “Bears Ears is being run by Google maps right now,” said Josh Ewing, director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, the nonprofit that — in the absence of federal infrastructure — runs the only visitor center.

The plan claims to maintain cultural resource protections, but it’s not clear the administration even knows what it is claiming to protect. An environmental impact statement from last summer admits that only 8% of the BLM-administered lands in the Shash Jáa unit — one of the two units that make up the reduced monument — have been surveyed for cultural resources. Within this small slice, an archaeological site was found every 8 acres, on average. Federal presence on the ground is already minimal, and the plan wouldn’t add more right away. The agencies say they intend to develop recreation guidelines, but the plans do not specify when. And even if the plans were in place today, they would apply to the 1.1 million acres cut from the original monument.

Grand Staircase has been a monument for more than two decades. Now, with the size reductions, grazing and mineral development are allowed on lands that had been off-limits since 1996. Within the monument, and in addition to the possible chaining and under-regulated recreation, casual fossil collection is now permitted in one of the country’s richest paleontological areas. Uncertainty about the new boundaries encourages abuse: Stephen Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a local nonprofit, said the complete lack of signage causes “so much confusion” between the monument’s boundaries and the excluded lands. Local members of his group report off-road trails spreading into illegal areas.



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