Blog Post Cory MacNulty May 28, 2024

Proposed Management Plan for Bears Ears Makes History

NPCA supports a historic plan for Utah's Bears Ears National Monument that enables collaborative management with Tribes and helps connect national park landscapes. Public support is needed to make it final.  

Bears Ears National Monument is home to spectacular red-rock formations, expansive canyons and mesas, and some of the darkest night skies in the country. It also features tens of thousands of sacred Indigenous cultural sites that hold centuries of history and stories. For many Tribal communities, this cultural landscape remains a place of healing and refuge.

The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service recently released a historic draft Resource Management Plan for Bears Ears, created in collaboration with five Native American Tribes. The first-of-its-kind plan for the monument’s 1.36 million acres of public land balances preservation and use — such as how the monument’s lands and resources will be cared for and protected, what recreational opportunities will be allowed, and where motorized vehicles can go and livestock can graze.

The opportunity to influence the management and protection of our national monuments doesn’t come around often. That’s why it’s critical that park advocates speak out. 

The federal agencies and Tribes seek public input on this draft plan, which will direct how the land will be managed for decades. The opportunity to influence the management and protection of our national monuments doesn’t come around often. That’s why it’s critical that park advocates speak out in support of Bears Ears once again.

The 90-day public comment period for the draft plan ends June 11.

A rocky road to this point

The last seven years have been a whirlwind for Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, as well as those who cherish and have defended this place. In December 2017, President Trump signed proclamations that gutted 85% of Bears Ears National Monument and cut nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half — the largest reduction of public lands protections in U.S. history. This action opened up these landscapes to more off-road vehicle use, habitat destruction, mining and other potentially harmful development. It threatened hundreds of cultural sites and troves of scientific and paleontological resources.

Take Action

The future of Bears Ears National Monument

Urge the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service to develop a final plan that incorporates traditional indigenous knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge.

Take Action

When Bears Ears was originally established in 2016, its boundaries spanned the area between Canyonlands National Park in the north and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the southwest, with Natural Bridges National Monument in the center. Therefore, the boundary reductions also exposed the national park sites surrounding the monument to possible mining and oil and gas development, increased off-road vehicles and other damaging activities just outside their boundaries.

Tribal Nations, local communities and businesses, conservation organizations such as NPCA, and nearly 700,000 park advocates across the country spoke out and fought tirelessly to protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and the surrounding national parks. Thankfully, President Biden listened and restored protections for the two national monuments in October 2021.

What will the Bears Ears Resource Management Plan accomplish?

Within Bears Ears, the Bureau of Land Management oversees 1,075,000 million acres, and the U.S. Forest Service 290,000 acres. A resource management plan will guide decision-making on behalf of the American public about what activities should and should not take place here. Strong management plans are critical to ensuring national monuments and surrounding national park sites remain unharmed by mining and other destructive development that could forever change the landscape. They seek a healthy balance between preservation and use, and they support sustainable tourism economies and the communities that rely on these protected lands.

The 670-page draft Bears Ears management plan outlines five alternative plans (A through E). The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the Bears Ears Commission, comprised of representatives from the five Tribes, have identified Alternative E as their preferred option. According to the plan, Alternative E emphasizes “Traditional Indigenous Knowledge and a holistic approach to stewardship of this sacred landscape that addresses tangible and intangible aspects” of the monument.

NPCA supports Alternative E with some enhancements to better protect neighboring national parks. We urge the federal agencies to do the same and adopt this alternative, honoring the monument proclamations and their commitments to the Bears Ears Commission Tribes and their wisdom and traditional knowledge.

What makes this management plan historic?

This is the first time the Biden administration has collaborated with Native American Tribes in drafting a management plan for a national monument, a pivotal shift in the federal government’s approach to management of public lands. Through this plan, Bears Ears will be managed in partnership with Tribes, using Indigenous knowledge and input, as was intended in President Obama’s proclamation that established the monument and President Biden’s proclamation that restored the monument and established the Bears Ears Commission.

The draft plan is a result of a two-year collaboration among the five Tribes — Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation – and the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service with input from cooperating agencies, stakeholders and the public.

This momentous strategy commits to long-term Tribal collaboration so management of the landscape emphasizes the full, connected ecosystem and reasonably balances public access and use of the monument. It aims to protect the land’s cultural and natural resources and help the monument share a fuller history of who has cared for this land for thousands of years.

What does this plan mean for surrounding national park landscapes?

Bears Ears plays a pivotal role in sustaining the ecological balance of this landscape that serves as a haven for wildlife, sacred land for Tribes, and cherished destination for millions of people who visit Utah’s public lands every year. The wisdom and traditional knowledge of the Indigenous communities, combined with the expertise of federal agencies, including the National Park Service, are essential in crafting management practices that respect cultural traditions, promote ecological integrity and adapt to environmental changes. Alternative E is a foundation we can build on, because it prioritizes a balanced approach to preservation and use both in the monument and next to the adjacent parklands of Canyonlands, Natural Bridges and Glen Canyon.

Alternative E proposes closing the monument to target shooting, providing lands next to the parks with the highest level of protections for views, and excluding designated areas from right-of-way developments. The plan also proposes establishing zones for recreation management, which would provide opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing and other activities while also concentrating these uses and associated infrastructure to the most appropriate and compatible areas. We urge the agencies to ensure recreation activities allowed next to parks are compatible on both sides of the boundary.

Concerningly, the proposed plan would also allow several areas adjacent to neighboring national parks to remain open to off-highway motor vehicles, leaving parks vulnerable to illegal trespass. NPCA urges the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to assess these routes in collaboration with the National Park Service to minimize trespass and further preserve natural soundscapes, views, clean air and water, and wildlife habitat.

How can park advocates support this plan?

A 90-day public comment period is currently underway until June 11. For more information and to submit comments, please visit the Bureau of Land Management’s e-planning site. This landmark management plan would not have become a reality without the leadership of Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Hopi Tribes and the Navajo Nation. NPCA is proud to partner with them in the fight to protect Bears Ears.

This collaboration proves that by elevating traditionally underrepresented voices and working together, we can preserve culturally important places and ecosystems while also balancing recreational opportunities.

Stay On Top of News

action alerts graphic

Our email newsletter shares the latest on parks.

You can unsubscribe at any time.

About the author

  • Cory MacNulty Campaign Director, Southwest Region, Southwest

    Cory MacNulty’s role as Campaign Director for the Southwest Region of National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is to serve as a lead strategist in protecting the scenic views, air and water quality, natural quiet, dark night skies and visitor experiences in the national parks of the Southwest Region with an emphasis on the 13 national parks in Utah.

Read more from NPCA

  • Press Release

    Report: National Park Service Agrees Rosenwald Story Worth Preserving

    Jun 2024

    Jewish philanthropist and leader Julius Rosenwald partnered with African American communities to build schools across the South. Together, we can ensure their legacy lives on to inspire the next generation…

  • Blog Post

    FAQs: Protecting America’s Legacy Campaign

    May 2024 | By Lam Ho, Linda Coutant

    NPCA recently launched a $300 million Protecting America’s Legacy campaign. Here’s everything you need to know to be informed and engaged with this fundraising initiative.

  • Blog Post

    5 Reasons the Rim of the Valley Should Be Protected

    May 2024 | By Alana Garibaldi

    National Parks Conservation Association and Nature Valley are working together to protect places in nature for everyone to enjoy – including land that comprises the Rim of the Valley in…