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Public meetings on the draft plan for Bears Ears National Monument start in April

Bears Ears National Monument Sign approaching from Blanding, Utah. The monument is co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Bears Ears Commission.
Cindy Gallo
Bears Ears National Monument Sign approaching from Blanding, Utah. The monument is co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Bears Ears Commission.

The draft resource management plan and environmental impact statement for Bears Ears National Monument is 678 pages long. Inside, you’ll find five alternative courses of action for managing the oft-fought-over monument. Each option could impact activities like hiking, grazing and off-highway vehicle use.

And now the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are looking for public input through a roadshow of meetings.

“Opinions are valuable, but the most helpful comments are the ones that provide new information, provide specific information about a use or an area that we might not have known or considered,” said Rachel Wooten, a BLM public affairs specialist in the Monticello office.

The draft plan is the culmination of a first-of-its-kind collaboration between federal agencies and the five tribes of the Bears Ears Commission — Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation — to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the monument’s approach to balancing public use with protection of cultural and natural resources.

The partnership is especially historic, Ruben Pacheco of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition said, because Bears Ears and other public lands across the West overlap with ancestral homelands that tribes were removed from.

“So ensuring that tribal perspectives are meaningfully involved in the protection of these lands is a way to respect tribes, and it's a move towards what we consider repairing historical injustices.”

It’s a pivotal and necessary shift in the federal government’s approach to managing public lands, he said, and represents a model that could be replicated by other tribal nations elsewhere.

The alternative preferred by federal agencies and the Bears Ears Commission is option E. It emphasizes the input from tribal partners, although Wooten points out that the agencies incorporated some aspects of Indigenous knowledge into the other alternatives as well.

Here’s how it might impact common uses.


Alternative E would end access for hikers to go inside the Moon House courtyard, a well-preserved site with adobe rooms that are more than 700 years old. Multiple alternatives, including E, also allow for seasonal closures of some recreational areas in favor of traditional tribal uses or ceremonies.


All the alternatives would continue to allow dispersed camping, but alternative E would include some camping restrictions to protect water sources. For example, it prohibits camping within a quarter mile of surface water and would allow the monument to limit camping near a stream if it’s determined that would negatively impact that waterbody.

Each alternative would also leave the door open to building newly developed campgrounds within Bears Ears, in addition to BLM’s current sites at Indian Creek and Sand Island.

Off-highway vehicle use

Alternative E would close off-highway vehicle access to 133,896 acres, which is a smaller closure than proposed in alternatives C and D. One example is the Arch Canyon area, which is currently open to OHVs but would be closed with alternative E — a move opposed by some recreation advocacy groups.

It’s already prohibited to leave designated routes in Bears Ears and other BLM land in the Moab and Monticello districts, and that would remain in place with any of these alternatives. Specific route-by-route decisions on OHV closures will come down the road when the monument creates its new travel management plan, Wooten said.


Cattle grazing would continue in the monument under all of the plans. Alternative E would close just under 30,000 acres to grazing, but 88% of the monument — or only 2% less than what’s currently available — would remain open for ranchers who have a permit.

Generally, the land that is closed to grazing in the plan are areas that aren’t currently being used, Wooten said.

Kate Groetzinger, communications manager with the conservation group Center for Western Priorities, was surprised to see how permissive the preferred plan is toward grazing and off-highway vehicle use.

“I think it represents an attempt to compromise with folks who have been using this area for that purpose,” she said. “Generally, monument designations don't curtail ranching in a large way, so I guess it’s not unprecedented.”

She’s glad to see an emphasis on limiting vehicles to designated routes, which helps protect fragile soil crusts. But the concern with keeping so many acres open, she said, is that it inherently increases the chances of people accessing and potentially damaging sensitive cultural sites.

Overall, though, she said it looks like the preferred alternative does its job by protecting Bears Ears’ historical and environmental treasures while still allowing recreational access.

“There’s a spectacular landscape for recreation, in addition to many other things, and it would be a shame if the public weren’t able to go and see a lot of these amazing sites,” Groetzinger said.

Bears Ears has faced its share of political tug-of-war since President Barack Obama established it in 2016. The next year, President Donald Trump reduced its acreage by roughly 85%. In 2021, President Joe Biden restored the monument to its original boundaries, plus another 11,200 acres added by Trump.

The state of Utah later sued the Biden administration in 2022 to stop that restoration. A federal judge dismissed the suit in 2023, and the state quickly appealed. In the 2024 legislative session, Utah lawmakers adopted a resolution to pull out of a land swap that would have included property within Bears Ears two years after approving the deal.

Now that the latest draft management plan is released, the federal agencies will host five in-person and two virtual meetings to share more details and answer questions. At each open house, there will be brief presentations and an opportunity for attendees to submit public comments.

  • Virtual Meeting, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 3-4:30 p.m. MDT. Register to attend on Zoom
  • Salt Lake City, Utah Open House, Thursday, April 18, 2024, 6-8 p.m. MDT, Marriott University Park, 480 S Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, UT, 84108 
  • Blanding, Utah Open House, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, 6-8 p.m. MDT, Utah State University Blanding, 576 West 200 South, Blanding, UT, 84511
  • Virtual Meeting, Thursday, May 2, 2024, 6-7:30 p.m. MDT. Register to attend on Zoom
  • Twin Arrows, Arizona Open House, Monday, May 6, 2024, 6-8 p.m. MST, Twin Arrows Casino Resort, 22181 Resort Boulevard, Twin Arrows, AZ, 86004 
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico Open House, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, 6-8 p.m. MDT, Marriott Courtyard, 5151 Journal Center Boulevard., Albuquerque, NM, 87109 
  • Monument Valley, Utah Open House, Thursday, May 16, 2024, 6-8 p.m. MDT, Monument Valley High School, US State Highway #163, Monument Valley, UT, 84536 

After the public comment period closes, the federal agencies will prepare a proposed final plan that Wooten expects to be released in the winter of 2024-2025. At that point, there will be one more protest period — a chance for feedback from people who already submitted comments that they feel weren’t addressed.

The public can submit a comment about the draft plans online or by mailing it to ATTN: Monument Planning, BLM Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main, Monticello, UT 84535.

Copyright 2024 KUER 90.1.

David Condos
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