By Angela Benander, Sierra Club
Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Department of the Interior continues to shut out the public in a reckless rush to sell off America’s public lands to the highest bidder. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently hosted a handful of meetings for the public to comment on the draft Resource Management Plans (RMP) for Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante regions. The management plans use the Trump administration’s illegally-reduced national monument boundaries, and propose opening large swaths of lands to mining and dirty fuel development. In total, only five meetings took place in five communities closest to the monuments. No public meetings were held anywhere else in the state. Hundreds of people attended these meetings, many questioning BLM’s efforts to rush through the process while the reduction sits tied up in litigation.
As the RMP comment deadline approaches on November 15, we encourage you to submit a comment to help protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments from dangerous and dirty resource exploitation in their entirety!
Utah residents Kirsten Johanna Allen and Emily Schrepf attended public meetings and shared their experiences:
It has been almost a year since President Trump announced the downsizing of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which resulted in three separate national monuments and almost one million acres of land removed from monument protections.
Over three years of planning went into the creation of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, allowing for multiple uses while protecting the priceless resources that led to its designation. In contrast, the BLM has moved full speed ahead in developing draft management plans for each of the three new monuments and the almost one million acres of land removed from monument protection in less than a year. These plans included errors (like illegally offering to sell public land to the highest bidder), misrepresentations, (like saying the BLM will close the Escalante River to grazing, while in fact opening grazing on the majority of the river corridor), and bad management of America’s antiquities (like opening an off-highway vehicle play area near Escalante and allowing for casual collection of paleontological resources).
As part of this process, the BLM held only two public meetings regarding Grand Staircase, meant to allow folks to ask questions and view maps and other visuals associated with the plans. These meetings were well-attended considering that most people realize that their participation is simply a formality rather than a real opportunity to affect decisions made about the future of Grand Staircase. There was a general air of frustration in the rooms as we faced the realities of less protection for the irreplaceable paleo, archaeological and biological resources that led to the creation of the monument in the first place. Following these tepid public meetings, it’s even more important for us to get our comments on record supporting the ongoing litigation. In the meantime, supporters agree that we must continue to fight, because not only are we unwilling to cede America’s lands here in the Grand Staircase, we can’t allow this awful precedent to go forward unchallenged.
The fluorescent lights hummed through the doorway as I approached the Bluff Community Center for the Bears Ears Meeting in beautiful Bluff, Utah, on October 3, 2018. I’d driven over from Torrey, Utah, to participate, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d attended the Bears Ears listening tour held by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in the height of summer heat back in July 2016, and though I wasn’t expecting the same buzz of 1,500 concerned people, anxious to tell their stories to the Secretary, BLM’s handling of the event was nonetheless underwhelming – and disappointing.
The large room, filled to capacity two years ago, was sparsely lined with information tables with BLM staff members standing near maps on easels. Individuals and small groups of one or two people picked up printed materials and strolled from table to table with the enthusiasm of browsing insurance brochures at a health fair. A group of 20 Whitman College students comprised more than half the attendees, and whereas Secretary Jewell had worked with local community folks, Native American advocates and leaders to invite and welcome Navajo, Ute, Hopi, and Paiute people, there was only one Native American woman – an acquaintance – in the room during the 75 minutes I was there. The room set-up was unwelcoming, with a ring of tables separating disengaged BLM staff from the public and some water coolers and stale-looking mini muffins set up in the center of the room. It was clear that the event was about spouting a party line, not discussing issues or gathering meaningful input from citizens.