NPCA submitted the following position to the House Committee on Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee ahead of a hearing scheduled for January 9, 2018.
In the wake of President Trump’s illegal actions on December 4, 2017, Congressman Curtis introduced H.R. 4532 to codify the president’s actions to decrease protections for Bears Ears National Monument by over 85 percent and limits the input, value and role of the Tribal Nations who originally proposed the protection of the Bears Ears region.
In summary, H.R. 4532 does the following:
- The bill legislatively enacts President Trump’s action to reduce the original Bears Ears National Monument, as designated in December 2016 by more than a million acres, resulting in two separate units of the national monument (Shash Jáa and Indian Creek). The December 2016 proclamation is declared null and void in Section 4 of H.R. 4532.
- Section 3 withdraws the original Bears Ears National Monument landscape (as designated in December 2016) from mineral entry. While this provision offers some protections to the otherwise unprotected original Bears Ears landscape under the bill, it serves merely as a distraction from the heart of H.R. 4532—which represents inadequate safeguards for the region. Further, if Mr. Curtis was truly concerned about the protection of this region, the legislation would address issues beyond mineral entry, which are greater threats to this region. This includes looting, vandalism, inappropriate off-road vehicle use, and more.
- Title I establishes the Shash Jáa National Monument at a mere 142,337 acres, paired with a managing body, the Shash Jáa Tribal Management Council. The Council is composed of seven seats, including one federal representative, two county, three Navajo Nation members, and one member of the White Mesa Utes of the Ute Mountain Tribe. The Council takes guidance from a Bears Ears Commission, composed of the original members as established in December 2016, and a new Archeological Resources Protection Unit.
- Title II establishes the Indian Creek National Monument at 86,447 acres, to be managed by the Indian Creek Management Council, comprised of two county commissioners, one federal representative, one state of Utah representative, two county commissioners and one Tribal member. As in Title I, the Indian Creek Management Council takes guidance from the Bears Ears Commission and an Archeological Resources Protection Unit.
- Title III provides an unknown land exchange between the State of Utah and the federal government. Details related to the legitimacy of this title are unclear given the lack of a map at the time of the hearing.
General concerns with and threats of H.R. 4532
The elimination of original protections and separation of the previously contiguous national monument offered by H.R. 4532 undermines the value of the Bears Ears landscape as a whole. It is crucial that these historic sites, sacred tribal grounds and remarkable natural resources remain connected under the national monument designation, as proclaimed in December 2016. It is in keeping with the Antiquities Act that these objects must receive “proper care and management,” and in order to do so, the landscape and the resources it hosts must be considered in its entirety, with an appropriate all-encompassing management plan. Unfortunately, H.R. 4532 does not provide the adequate protection or management that the region deserves by yielding to President Trump’s December 4th actions to limit protections to the region.
The original Bears Ears National Monument boundaries secured protection for national parks both inside and adjacent to the monument, including Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Realistically, protection for national parks can only be assured when their adjacent lands are well managed. Simply, the original Bears Ears National Monument provided better security for the management of Southeastern Utah’s public lands, including its national parks. Under H.R. 4532, these park protections are significantly reduced with a fragmented landscape that eliminates significant acreage surrounding the aforementioned national park units.
More specifically, NPCA has a long-standing commitment to protect a significant portion of the Bears Ears area of northern San Juan County, adjacent to Canyonlands National Park. Since 1988, we have publicly advocated for expanded protections of the natural and cultural resources around Canyonlands National Park through our Canyonlands Completion campaign. Our vision includes extending protections from the existing national park boundary to the natural erosional boundary of the Wingate cliffs–this better incorporates the whole basin, as well as adjacent cultural and natural resources, while removing some of the external threats to park resources.
While NPCA’s Canyonlands Completion area closely aligns with the Bears Ears National Monument boundary to the east of Canyonlands National Park under H.R. 4532, the land south of Canyonlands is now unprotected. This region includes Beef Basin, with substantial archeological and cultural sites.
Unfortunately, much of the Bears Ears area, including around the national park sites, has long suffered from looting and destruction of cultural sites, irresponsible off-road vehicle use, energy and mineral extraction and other threats from inappropriate use and development. As noted above, the mineral withdrawal offered in H.R. 4532 does little to resolve or specifically address these additional threats.
Finally, H.R. 4532 locks in potentially hazardous levels of grazing and maintains vehicle use for a variety of purposes, all without reasonable consultation of what may be appropriate for the landscape from an ecological or cultural resources perspective.
Management Councils without adequate guidance
The Management Councils established in Titles I and II of H.R. 4532 allows for management of these federal lands, owned by all Americans, to be governed not by public interests or federal expertise, but primarily by state and county interests. Notorious for their disrespect of the region’s public lands and resources, NPCA is incredibly concerned by the deference of both Management Councils to non-federal or tribal officials. The Tribal member seats provided by H.R. 4532 to the councils also do not adequately represent the Tribal Nations engaged in the establishment of the original Bears Ears National Monument, with only consultation and guidance provided by the original Bears Ears Commission.
In addition, the lack of federal oversight and expertise engaged in the management of the monuments is significant. We rely on our federal land management agencies for their knowledge and skill in the care of our federal lands; unfortunately, H.R. 4532 tokenizes the role of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service officials giving them limited or no role at all in the Management Councils. It provides no specific role for the National Park Service.
National monuments are treasured lands and historic sites that all Americans enjoy. They also are economic generators for local communities. Park sites originally designated through the Antiquities Act contributed over $7.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016 and supported over 78,000 private sector jobs. National monuments like the original Bears Ears, which shares a landscape with national parks, are success stories and honor the Tribal Nations that have long resided in the region. We remain troubled that H.R. 4532 does not reflect adequate representation of the communities most connected to this invaluable landscape in Southeast Utah, nor does it offer reasonable protection of the region’s resources.
NPCA delivered over 15,000 letters from our members asking President Obama to designate a Bears Ears National Monument; likewise, we submitted tens of thousands of comments in support of leaving our national monuments, including Bears Ears, intact in response to President Trump’s 2017 Executive Order on the Antiquities Act. Like the National Park Service, we supported the original protection of this landscape and have recognized its value to our national parks in Southeast Utah for decades.
As the committee considers H.R. 4532, we encourage them to dismiss the bill swiftly, preventing further congressional action that would only serve to diminish the role of tribal leaders, limit the support of trusted federal land managers, leave the region vulnerable to destructive uses and much more.
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Director of Legislation and Policy, Government Affairs