December 29, 2016

My thoughts on #BearsEars

For the new national monument, a great starting point is Jonathan Thompson's piece at High Country News. And, a great backgrounder piece, plus a showing of his chops as a writer, is Jonny Peace's article from this summer.

So, that's our starting point.

Here's some sidebar and backgrounder cold takes from me.

1. I'm not a total fan of BLM and Forest Service national monuments. Haven't been since the Slickster made Grand Staircase-Escalante the first one, or at least the first of any size, on the BLM side, and Giant Sequoia the first of any size on the USFS side. (Doesn't Fish and Wildlife get a National Wildlife Refuge upgraded at some point?)

That said, I've been through portions of Giant Sequoia once, at night driving. Not sure how much the additional protections there are, or the additional values added.

Grosvenor Arch at GSE Nat'l Monument.
Photo by Steve Snyder
I've been to GSE twice, or rather, somewhat through it, especially on the first trip, as well as nibbled around its edges a couple of other times. I've been to Carrizo Plain and Klamath-Siskyou (rumored to be on Obama's list for expansion).

And, as for our newest site, I've done some putz-around hiking on Cedar Mesa and at the start of Grand Gulch as well as other spots at the edges of the new monument. So, I'm not a total stranger to the area.

That said, let's dive in.

First, protection, even under the BLM and its different philosophy on Western lands, as well as the tradeoffs with these things, is better than the older, less adequate protections within the same agencies. And, elimination of new grazing leases is part of the enabling of the monument. Francis Biddle, FDR's attorney general, issued a 1938 opinion that a future president cannot kill a previous president's national monument created under the Antiquities Act. (That said, Woodrow Wilson DID cut TR's original Olympic National Monument in half in 1915.)

Second, as of my most recent visit to GSE just over a year ago, I noticed that the BLM has a new, pretty nice, pretty informative visitor center replacing the old one. And, the workers there seemed to be a couple of old-time desert rats from somewhere on the Plateau, whatever state's BLM office they started in.

They'll tell you some gossip about the creation of the marina towns on Lake Powell, some serious talk about dinosaur sites in the monument, and more. Nice bookstore there, and some nice dinosaur displays. There's still the Old Paria movie set, etc. Oh, the famous "Wave"? It's only a couple of acres.

In other words, the BLM has shown that it's not a horrible steward of such sites. And, per the staffers above, they might be more down-to-earth at times than Park Service rangers.

The Abajo Mountains, in background, from Canyonlands National Park.
Photo by Steve Snyder
2. Re compromises, per Jonny's main piece at the first link, and the BLM official map, now that boundaries have been set, I don't like all the compromises in the final package. Most notably, I think the Abajos should have been included, both for a higher general natural beauty protection, and given the American Indian background to the monument as a whole, their Ute history.

Incorporating the Abajos could also, in theory, have addressed another issue, by transferring the Manti-LaSal National Forest lands involved to the BLM.

Still a bit of Kumbaya in Obama, and it probably popped up there.

That said, I'm not sure, but is this maybe the first of the new national monuments that has both BLM and Forest Service land inside the same monument? I know the two agencies already do bits of work coordination on adjacent lands, but, how well will this work out?

The pristine night skies of the new Bears' Ears National Monument are clear
in this picture of the Big Dipper. / Photo by Steve Snyder
3. That said, in light of No. 1 and 2, I can defend, or even praise, Obama doing this, while still noting that in many ways, including violations of our civil liberties, foreign bombing campaigns, no national health care and, re the National Park Service, a weak, neoliberalized centennial celebration, he's not the bees' knees as president. (On the Great Blue Satan, in a closed group, not all are of the same mind, as far as praising this while remaining critical in general. Vis-a-vis those folks, while I agree that, versus Preznit Kumbaya, you don't compromise away the compromise in advance — along with his other issues — there is a right time to compromise in some way.)

In short, this isn't a zero-sum game.

As for the blathering of San Juan County, Utah, residents? The land most productive for farming and ranching was either homesteaded by Mormon pioneers before the old General Land Office took federal control — in actuality, not just theory — or else sold off by the GLO. There's plenty of other places to do ORV driving, anyway. As for mineral rights and leases? Well, BLM is often too lenient. Besides, especially if it's coal, it needs to be kept in the ground anyway. And, of course, existing grazing as well as mineral leases remain operative, per a BLM FAQ. The land size is little different than the likes of Randy Bishop proposed, too. The Indian tribal consultation that's part of the monument surely is a difference, though (Those tribes involved are the Hopi Nation, the Navajo Nation, the Zuni Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray.)

And, many people, like Friends of Cedar Mesa, got tired of Bishop's sandbagging, and that of others, and called on Obama to do exactly what he did.

Finally in this vein, I wonder if tribal management consulting will get tied to enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, for theft of potsherds, etc. And, will such consulting allow law enforcement of the various tribes to wield their badges inside the monument? (Update: Jonny says the Archaelogical Resource Protection Act, or ARPA, is what to look to, and that it's unlikely tribal police will patrol inside the monument.)

It may not be a lot, but anything in this regard would be better, for those who know the history of the largely Mormon pothunters in the county.

Speaking of that, per Obama's proclamation, the area is potential as much a fossil trove as GSE, and needs more protection for that reason too.

4. Some broader thoughts on the Park Service, vis-a-vis comments on another High Country News story to another commenter, are next.

No, we do not need mega-sized national parks in all 50 states. (This person was behind an earlier version of what is now the Maine Woods National Monument. He wanted 3.5 million acres, far, far bigger than its actual size. If you're wondering, that's one-seventh the entire state of Maine, or the same size as Death Valley National Monument.)

Second, we do NOT need more NPS units until we address not only the well-documented maintenance backlogs, but also continue work on purchase of private inholdings at current NPS units.

Third, in that situation, and if private entities can't come together for an actual plan, not a Randy Bishop-type head fake like his over Bears' Ears, then a BLM or BLM/Forest Service, national monument is better than nothing indeed.

5. Speaking of BLM, more photos, and information, about both Bears' Ears and Gold Butte on its Tumblr.

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