Statement from The Nature Conservancy in Utah Concerning Interior’s Review of Bears Ears National Monument


May 07, 2017

The Nature Conservancy is not in favor of rescinding Bears Ears National Monument (BENM), modifying the 12/28/16 Presidential Proclamation which created BENM, or making changes to the BENM boundaries for the following reasons:

  • Protection is Needed - The Bears Ears cultural landscape contains more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites, making it one of the most significant archaeological areas in the US. BENM also protects key natural areas including desert riparian systems, pinon-juniper woodlands and relict sites, as well as critical habit for sensitive species and wildlife unique to Utah’s canyon country.
  • Largest Private Landowner - As the largest private landowner in the newly created Bears Ears National Monument (BENM), The Nature Conservancy has extensive experience in conserving this region. In 1997 we purchased the 325,000-acre Dugout Ranch (5,247 deeded acres and associated grazing permits on 320,000 acres of BLM, USFS and State of Utah lands) all of which is now included within BENM.
  • Public Input and PLI – Along with numerous other stakeholders, The Nature Conservancy actively engaged in Congressman Bishop’s and Congressman Chaffetz’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI) process which invited extensive public input over a two-year period and culminated in the introduction of H.R.5780, The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, on 7/14/16. The Conservancy was unable to support this measure due to provisions we opposed, and the measure was not passed by Congress. Congress’ failure to act led to the establishment of BENM by Presidential Proclamation on 12/28/16. 
  • Canyonlands Research Center – At the Dugout Ranch, the Conservancy has established the Canyonlands Research Center (CRC). This innovative partnership between the Conservancy, public land managers (BLM, USFS, NPS, USGS, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) and major research institutions is developing new science and land management solutions to help make informed choices about land and water management on the Colorado Plateau. Our research facilities attract students, researchers and rangeland specialists who benefit from establishing study plots on public lands throughout the CRC study area. Associated with our research programs, the Conservancy currently operates a +/- 450 head cow/calf operation utilizing BLM, Forest Service, School Trust and private lands which are now in the Monument. While the BENM Proclamation does not specifically mention research activities, in our view there is nothing in the Proclamation that would preclude them from continuing. Grazing and research activities at the CRC are permitted.
  • Exchange of SITLA Lands – The State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) lands located in the region pose a special challenge, because the development of these lands would seriously harm the area. The BENM Proclamation sets the stage for a Memorandum of Understanding between BLM and SITLA to exchange SITLA lands within BENM for BLM lands elsewhere, so as to remove SITLA lands from the Monument. This is a key goal we support. This anticipated exchange will benefit the State, and also enhance land management efforts in Indian Creek in particular. Without BENM, there is no assurance an exchange of these lands will take place.
  • Cultural Heritage – The Conservancy acknowledges the important cultural, spiritual and historic significance of the Bears Ears region to the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni and other tribes active in the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. We are supportive of helping to protect the ancestral legacy Bears Ears represents to these and other native peoples.
  • The Antiquities Act – The Nature Conservancy supports the Antiquities Act as an important conservation tool to protect key cultural resources and natural areas which are found on public lands. The Act does not apply to private lands; only lands which are already in federal ownership. Each proposed, and then designated, monument has its own story, dynamics and particular set of circumstances. Given that PLI did not succeed, the Conservancy understands why the Antiquities Act was used to protect this region. [See below for statements on Federal Lands Management and Monument designations.]
  • Time to Move Forward – While the BENM Proclamation makes it clear the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture will manage BENM, it also calls for stakeholder input through: l.) The development of a Management Plan, 2.) The establishment of a BENM Advisory Committee, and 3.) Creating a Bears Ears tribal commission. The Conservancy acknowledges that discussions regarding the future of this area have had a complicated past; however, we feel it is now time to look forward and do what is best for the resource. We plan to provide input, along with other stakeholders, in the development of the Management Plan, and request that The Nature Conservancy be represented on the BENM Advisory Committee.
  • Funding for Resource Management – Regardless of its federal land designation, the Bears Ears region will not be fully protected unless and until adequate federal funds are provided for management. The Conservancy will advocate for the federal appropriations needed to ensure the proper management and stewardship of BENM.

“We appreciate Secretary Ryan Zinke taking the time to visit Southeastern Utah and experience for himself the natural wonders and valuable cultural resources of the Bears Ears region. Based on Secretary Zinke’s visit, we hope he will conclude, as we have, that there is no need to alter BENM. It is time to move forward and do what is best for the resource. We plan to provide input, along with other stakeholders, as a comprehensive Management Plan is developed and advocate for the public funding needed to properly manage this unique region.”

Dave Livermore, Utah State Director

The Nature Conservancy’s position on federal public lands:

  • Federal ownership and stewardship of public lands across the nation play a vital role in furthering conservation that serves both people and nature.
  • These public lands, and the large intact habitats they provide, are central to achieving our mission of conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.
  • The Conservancy is deeply concerned by recent discussions about the transfer of federal lands to states.
  • Frustration and concern with federal land management is a real and important issue to address. Opportunities exist to improve the health and sustainability of public lands and local communities through an open, collaborative and science-based approach.
  • The Nature Conservancy has been proactive in drafting a concept for how to increase the pace and scale of restoration on large national forest landscapes.
  • The Conservancy is committed to working with federal land management agencies and stakeholders to improve management of public lands.

The Nature Conservancy’s position on National Monuments:

  • National Monuments across the country are home to incredibly diverse ecological, geological, and cultural resources. In addition to contributions to conservation of important areas, monuments make a significant contribution to local economies and provide recreational opportunities.
  • Monument designations can be an important tool for conservation especially if they are designated based on a transparent and participatory process.
  • Federal agencies have a variety of approaches to protect important landscapes, species and other resources that involve the public from the start. The Nature Conservancy believes that the public should be engaged up front when considering the designation of protected areas. Processes that consider ecological, cultural and economic factors during the development of conservation approaches generally result in greater support for specific protections and stronger community participation over time.

For media inquiries contact: Tracey Stone, tstone@tnc.org, (602) 738-1586

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

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