A unique management approach was solidified this last weekend among five Native American tribes, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service with formalization of the Bears Ears Commission.

“This is an important step as we move forward together to ensure that Tribal expertise and traditional perspectives remain at the forefront of our joint decision-making for the Bears Ears National Monument,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the Bureau of Land Management. “This type of true co-management will serve as a model for our work to honor the nation-to-nation relationship in the future.”

The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni will share in co-management of the 1.36 million-acre boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument.

“Today (Saturday) instead of being removed from a landscape to make way for a public park, we are being invited back to our ancestral homelands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future. We are being asked to apply our traditional knowledge to both the natural and human-caused ecological challenges, drought, erosion, visitation, etc.,” said Bears Ears Commission Co-Chair and Lieutenant Governor of Zuni Pueblo Carleton Bowekaty “What can be a better avenue of restorative justice than giving tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of lands their ancestors were removed from?” 

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After the signing ceremony to formally reconstitute the Bears Ears Commission, a new sign bearing the insignia of the five tribes was unveiled along Highway 261 in San Juan County.

“It’s an honor for the Department of Agriculture to sign this one-of-a-kind cooperative agreement,” said USDA’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Homer Wilkes. “This agreement outlines a common vision for management of Bear Ears National Monument and protection of these sacred lands that are important to so many.” 

Last October, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation to restore the Bears Ears National Monument, recognizing the importance of the knowledge of tribal nations in managing the monument by reconstituting the Bears Ears Commission as established by President Barack Obama in 2016, consisting of one elected officer each from the five tribes.

While the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service jointly manage the monument and will prepare a management plan, they will do so in cooperation with the tribes.

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The sprawling monument in southeast Utah has been a so-called political football, tossed around by three separate presidential administrations as land use controversy continues to be one of the most contentious issues in the state.

Three different interior secretaries under the Obama, Trump and Biden administration have visited the area in a review of its potential designation as a monument or its downsizing, as what happened under the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump also downsized the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. That monument was subsequently restored by Biden.

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Conservative GOP leaders in Utah have long assailed the Antiquities Act, which allows presidential designations of monuments. Utah Republican leaders have argued the executive power has been abused to serve special interest groups or to lock up large tracts of land without the benefit of multiple use.

In June of last year, Utah’s GOP delegation implored Biden to arrive at a legislative solution rather than an outright restoration of the Utah monuments Trump downsized.

On his first day in office, Biden made clear he wanted to revisit the issue of Utah’s monument boundaries, shrunk in December of 2017 after Utah’s delegation and other political leaders pushed vehemently to have the monuments reduced in size.

Trump agreed, much to the protests of environmental groups, conservation organizations and Native American tribes, who in particular hold Bears Ears to be sacred.

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