Bears Ears Archives


  • April 24th, 2018

    Reports From the Field is a blog of SUWA’s Field Volunteers, accounting experiences, reflections and activism from time spent in direct service of Utah’s wild and public lands. 

    When hiking and exploring Bears Ears National Monument, it is easy to lose oneself in the beauty and isolation of its many canyons. The serene beauty found in the region now widely associated with the Bears’ Ears buttes is one of the main appeals of this landscape. However, a scan of the canyon walls and alcoves reveals glimpses into the distinctive and vibrant cultural history of the region. While many call Bears Ears a wilderness, it was called home by generations of indigenous peoples, whose artwork, architecture, and objects of daily life may still be found throughout the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As an archaeologist, I can attest to the scientific significance of these sites, but more importantly these are places of cultural identity and spiritual importance to descendant Native American communities.

    Ruins visible from a great distance across the canyon expanse.

    I had the chance earlier this month to explore one such cultural space with a backcountry cleanup project organized by SUWA at Fish and Owl Canyon. Our crew of volunteer scientists and professionals performed trail maintenance, cleaned out and dispersed illegal fire pit rings, and carried out trash left by hikers. All the while, we were witness to archaeological sites throughout the canyons. A granary tucked beneath a rock overhang. A scatter of ceramic sherds on a talus slope. A stark white pictograph above a habitation site.

    Increasingly rare potsherds indicate the cultural landscape of the canyons.

    These were all created by the Ancestral Pueblo culture over 700 years ago, amid a time of social unrest and environmental uncertainty. The placement of dwellings in nearly inaccessible canyon alcoves has been interpreted by many archaeologists as an indicator that defense and security were a priority for the people who called these canyons home. Our small contingent approached one such site, but were appropriately foiled by the steepness of the surrounding slickrock. Even amid a time of uncertainty, the people who dwelt in Fish and Owl Canyons still filled their lives with beauty, craftsmanship, and sustenance, as seen in pictographs adorning the canyon walls, black-on-white ceramic sherds found beneath a site, and corn cobs lying on a dry alcove floor.

    I first hiked Owl Canyon in 2009 and remembered well the ruins, rock art, and artifacts found throughout the canyon. On this return trip I was happy to see that the ruins and rock art appeared undamaged and still in good condition. However, I was disturbed to find the wealth of ceramic sherds that once adorned sites were largely gone. In less than a decade, a deluge of visitors had carried away these pieces of the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As we all continue to fight for the legal protection of Bears Ears, it is just as important to continue to educate a public unfamiliar with the proper etiquette required to visit cultural sites. Our cleanup work helped reverse recent human impact on the canyon environment, but a respect for the cultural legacies of Bears Ears is essential for the continued preservation of this landscape.

    Our responsibility resides in the honoring and protection of a cultural legacy.

     

    Maxwell Forton, Archaeologist
    Binghamton University

  • April 6th, 2018

    As you know, on December 4th, 2017, the Trump administration illegally repealed Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, replacing them with two and three drastically smaller national monuments, respectively. This left over 2 million acres of cultural and natural wonders without protection.

    Despite legal challenges filed by SUWA and partner organizations over this unlawful abuse of presidential authority, the BLM is moving forward with planning processes for these new monuments. This rushed effort largely cuts out public input so it’s important that you speak up as the Bureau of Land Management begins to move forward with its new management plans.  

    Submit your comments to the BLM by April 11th for Bears Ears and April 13th for Grand Staircase-Escalante. Please note: you must comment separately on each monument plan.

    >> Click here to submit comments on Bears Ears (by April 11)

    >> Click here to submit comments on Grand Staircase-Escalante (by April 13)

    We encourage you to write personalized comments as the agency is likely to disregard boilerplate messages. For talking points, please see the links above.

    Your actions play a critical role in protecting both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments as our legal team works to restore the monuments to their original state.

    Thank you for taking action.

  • March 19th, 2018

    March 20 Lease Sale Sold Leases on Public Lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, along with Culturally Significant Areas in Southeast Utah

    Updated March 20, 2018

     

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991

    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202.513.6263

    Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, 303.915.8308

    Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4635

    Salt Lake City (March 20): Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned off parcels of federal public lands in southeastern Utah’s spectacular redrock country for oil and gas leasing and development. Included in BLM’s lease sale are approximately 54,000 acres of public lands near Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments, as well as in the culturally rich Alkali Ridge area of critical environmental concern and along the Green and San Juan rivers. Conservationists have protested the sale of 32 parcels as being contrary to federal laws and regulations. A map of the proposed lease parcels is available here.

    In addition to conservation groups’ protests, the National Park Service (NPS) raised significant concerns about the impacts of this oil and gas lease sale and later-in-time development, including impacts to air quality, dark night skies, scenic values, soundscapes and groundwater quality to parks in southeast Utah including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments (NPS’s letter available here).

    • NPS requested that BLM remove lease parcels near its parks, stating “we are concerned that continuing to offer parcels for oil and gas exploration and development in proximity to our parks will be detrimental to the experience of the visiting public.”
    • NPS explained that BLM had “not fully evaluated” its concerns regarding dark night skies and soundscapes, stating “[w]e are disappointed that there is no recognition in [BLM’s environmental reviews] of the significant potential for degradation of dark night skies and soundscapes that would result from oil and gas exploration and development on the lease parcels.”
    • NPS critiqued BLM’s failure to respond to NPS’s detailed air quality recommendations.

    BLM ignored all of these concerns and offered the 13 parcels based on its shoddy analysis and ill-founded decision that leasing would not jeopardize these resources and values.

    “We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later.’”

    “BLM’s short-sighted decision threatens Utah’s red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance.’”

    In addition to offering leases adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and close to Bears Ears and Hovenweep National Monuments, BLM also plans to offer leases in culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah including:

    • Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. BLM briefly considered leasing in this area in 2015, but acknowledged that it lacked sufficient information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from the proposal. The agency is putting these cultural sites at risk without collecting and reviewing that information;
    • Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
    • Several tracts in proposed wilderness areas including in Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon near Moab, Utah, and in Cross Canyon, immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

    “These lands and cultural artifacts belong to the American people. Instead of managing them in the public interest as the law requires, the Trump administration is using its Polluter Dominance strategy to plunder them for the benefit of big businesses and a wealthy few,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of Lands for the Nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Even beyond that misguided policy, this leasing can’t be justified when nearly two million acres of public land in Utah sit leased but unused.”

    “Secretary Zinke and the BLM have acknowledged that some places should not be put at risk from oil and gas drilling, as we saw in his recent reprieves for lands around Chaco Canyon and the town of Livingston, Montana. The extraordinary cultural resources and wilderness values of these Utah lands deserve the same protection,” said Nada Culver, senior director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center.

    “The Trump administration is heedlessly rushing to sacrifice irreplaceable wild rivers and wildlife to satisfy the fossil fuel industry’s greed,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The ancient native fish of Utah’s San Juan and Green rivers deserve a chance at survival, but Trump’s oil and gas auction puts them at deadly risk from habitat loss and fracking pollution.”

    “Utah’s oil and gas industry has stockpiles of unused leased lands. We must not hand over our parks, monuments and archaeologically-rich canyons to them too. It’s time to re-balance the scales of development and conservation so future generations can breathe clean air, drink clean water and have access to nature,” said Ashley Soltysiak, Utah Sierra Club Chapter director.

    On January 2, 2018, a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) formally protested BLM’s decision to auction off these federal public lands for leasing and development (see here and here). BLM has yet to respond to those protests but nonetheless is moving forward with this sale. BLM’s environmental assessment is available here and its Determination of NEPA Adequacy is available here.

    Like in most western states, there is a surplus of BLM-managed lands in Utah that are under lease but not in development. At the end of BLM’s 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development (here—follow hyperlink for Table 2 Acreage in Effect). At the same time, oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production (here – follow hyperlink for Table 6 Acreage of Producing Leases). With less than forty percent of the total land under lease there is no need to sacrifice any of these remarkable areas for oil and gas leasing and development.

    Click here for photos of areas to be auctioned off by BLM in southeastern Utah for fossil fuel development.

  • March 9th, 2018

    What happens when the government is controlled by friends of the oil/gas/mining industry and decides that public lands should be destroyed for short-term rewards? People get angry, and that anger turns to ACTION. Earlier this week, Congress heard from 30 impassioned activists in Washington, D.C. during the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s annual Wilderness Week, co-hosted by SUWA, Sierra Club, and NRDC.

    Wilderness Week activists in front of the U.S. Capitol this past week.

    After an extensive training session covering the ins and outs of lobbying, Utah wilderness issues, and the legislative process, activists took to Capitol Hill to put their newfound skills to good use. Teams scheduled over 200 meetings with members of Congress. In office after office, their stories of the redrock reinvigorated old legislative champs, educated new ones, and challenged the assertions of opponents.

    Now we’re asking you to amplify their voices and help keep up the momentum.

    Click here to ask your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and oppose the Curtis and Stewart national monument giveaway bills!

    A love for the redrock drove these activists to share their personal stories and connections to the landscape during their meetings on the Hill. Whether they grew up near Utah’s magnificent public lands, hiked through slot canyons on family vacations, or have a deep cultural connection to the landscape, their stories struck a chord in many offices.

    For those of you reading this who were not able to attend Wilderness Week, there is still a part for you to play. No matter where you live, contact your members of Congress and tell them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If they are already cosponsors, click here to thank them!

    Or if you prefer to contact your members via your smartphone, text “ARRWA” to 52886 to take action now!

    To find out if your members of Congress have already endorsed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, click here for the current list of cosponsors

    Thank you!

  • February 6th, 2018

    As you know, on December 4, 2017, President Trump signed two illegal proclamations that seek to significantly reduce the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.

    Despite legal challenges filed by SUWA and partner organizations over these unlawful abuses of presidential authority, the Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with creating new land use plans that reflect the diminished boundaries in both monuments.

    Even as we remain confident that President Trump’s actions will be invalidated by the courts, it’s important that you speak up as the BLM begins to move forward with its new management plans.

    Comments on the land use plans are due April 11th, 2018.

    >> Click here to comment on Bears Ears National Monument.

    >> Click here to comment on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    (Please note: you must comment separately on each monument plan.)

    We encourage you to write personalized comments, as the agency is likely to disregard boilerplate messages. In writing your comments, please consider emphasizing the following points:

    • The proclamations reducing the monuments are, first and foremost, unlawful actions that will ultimately be overturned by a court of law. Under the Antiquities Act, the president only has the authority to create a national monument, and only Congress can revoke or reduce the boundaries of an existing monument.
    • The BLM should abstain from management planning until a court has ruled on the legality of President Trump’s action. Rapidly moving forward with this planning effort is a waste of valuable agency resources that would be better spent addressing much needed on-the-ground cultural and natural resource protection issues.

    Additional talking points are available at the links below:

    >> Click here to comment on Bears Ears National Monument.


    >> Click here to comment on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Your comments submitted by March 19th play a critical role in protecting Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in the short term, while our legal team works daily to restore the monuments for all time.

    Thank you for taking action.

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