Elections matter. San Juan County Utah has shown us the true significance of that basic civic fact.
You’ll recall that in the 2018 election, Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes were elected to the three-person San Juan County Commission after a federal judge redistricted the county. The court found that San Juan County’s voting districts were racially gerrymandered and violated the federal Voting Rights Act by placing the majority of Native Americans in a single district. New, fairly-drawn districts resulted in the election of the first majority-Navajo county commission in Utah history.
Maryboy and Grayeyes ran on a pro-Bears Ears National Monument platform, and at a county commission meeting in Monticello in mid-February they moved to keep that promise, introducing and passing a pair of resolutions that mark a dramatic about-face in the county’s official position on the monument.
The first resolution rescinded all prior commission resolutions opposing the establishment of Bears Ears or calling for its reduction. The second resolution directed the San Juan county attorney to end the county’s participation in the lawsuit regarding the legality of the president’s attack on the monument; the county originally entered the lawsuit on the side of the Trump administration.
Two weeks later, as if to punctuate those resolutions with an exclamation point, they passed a third resolution in support of the Bears Ears Expansion and Respect for Sovereignty (BEAR) Act, a bill re-introduced in Congress by Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Deb Haaland (D-NM) in January. The bill would create a 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, as was originally proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in 2015 (see article on page 11).
Utah politicians in the state legislature, clearly dismayed by the demonstration of democracy in action down in San Juan County, quickly introduced bills requiring city and county governments to explain to the legislature their position on public lands issues before advocating for them. Nonetheless, San Juan County’s official position is now supportive of a full 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument.
It bears repeating: Elections matter.
What’s New with the National Monuments Litigation? It’s Grinding Along . . .
Our challenge to President Trump’s unlawful attack on Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments continues to grind along in federal district court in Washington, DC. Recently, the court allowed the State of Utah, three Utah counties, and the American and Utah Farm Bureau Federations to participate in these cases as full parties to defend Trump’s decision.
These new parties have filed additional briefs in support of the Justice Department’s motions to dismiss our cases and we have responded and opposed those new filings (largely consisting of rehashed arguments). We still expect that the court will hold a hearing on the “motions to dismiss” by late spring or early summer and issue a decision shortly thereafter, though there is no schedule set for that to happen.
Fortunately, it has been a wet and snowy winter and very little has happened on the ground within the original monument boundaries over the past several months. That said, we are keeping a close eye out for new mining claims, road improvements, and other mischief.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2019 issue)