United States Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (in blue) met with the Grand County Council on Wednesday evening, July 13, as part of a visit to the area to hear local opinions on Rep. Bishop's Public Lands Initiative and the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Update: Posted Thursday, July 14th, 9:30 a.m.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell heard comments from the Grand County Council on Rep. Rob Bishop’s Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI), and the Bureau of Land Management’s Master Leasing Plan (MLP) at a special meeting held on Wednesday, July 13. More than 50 local citizens attended, many wearing t-shirts, or carrying signs either in support of, or opposed to, the creation of a Bears Ears National Monument.

“I am here to listen, that is the primary reason for this visit,” Jewell said. “You have an incredible place here, and I know that it’s got lots of different elements to the economy, and things that are important to people of this region.”

Jewell introduced herself as a former petroleum engineer, a commercial banker, a CEO, and an avid outdoorsperson. On land-use decisions she said that she is in it for the long game.

“I’m in the forever business,” she said. “Am I leaving the world better not just for my grandchildren for the generations that follow. That means a strong economy, and it also means a healthy environment, and a healthy ecosystem.”

Council member Chris Baird voiced his support for the MLP and PLI planning scenarios, but said that he could not support the PLI’s first draft, and that significant changes would have to be made before he could support it.

As for the MLP Baird said that “in an area like this where there are so many uses conflicting, that are back to back with one another, it helps to have a more detailed planning process.”

Council member Lynn Jackson expressed his dissatisfaction with the MLP, and he cited language in the document that expressed a need “to add further constraints to mineral development.”

“This was never intended to be a balanced plan,” Jackson said.

Jackson said that where he once supported the PLI, he wasn’t sure if he would still be able to before seeing the changes that had been made to the draft.

Council member Rory Paxman said that he “agreed with Lynn 100 percent,” while council members Mary McGann and Elizabeth Tubbs said that they supported the MLP and PLI process, but that they still needed to review the final PLI before they could give unequivocal support.

Rep. Bishop released the final draft on Thursday, July 14.

Original Story (below) posted Wednesday, July 13

Interior Secretary Jewell visits; Rep. Bishop reveals PLI strategy

Plan seeks to avert Presidential proclamation of a Bears Ears National Monument

Will a legislative compromise settle federal public land-use issues in eastern Utah, or will President Barack Obama create a new national monument by executive order in San Juan County? This week could be a turning point in the debate.

Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, on Friday, July 8, revealed a legislative timeline for his Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI) just ahead of a visit to southeastern Utah by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Jewell is scheduled to attend a town meeting in Bluff, Utah on Saturday, July 16, to hear local ideas on land conservation including a proposal for a 1.9 million acre Bears Ears National Monument.

Jewell also attended a meeting on Wednesday, July 13, with the Grand County Council just as this story was going to press. For more information on that meeting please visit the Moab Sun News online at www.moabsunnews.com.

In a letter to Sec. Jewell, Bishop outlined his plans for the proposed legislation while urging her to allow time for the legislative process to work. The letter was also signed by fellow Utah Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

“As we have repeatedly stated, legislation ensures local participation and guarantees a balanced product,” the letter said. “The delegation, local elected officials and many local tribal organizations remain unified in our opposition to the unilateral use of the Antiquities Act in Utah.”

Bishop has touted the PLI as a “grand bargain” that will preserve millions of acres of scenic lands while opening up other areas for development. The years long process has brought together stakeholders representing conservation, recreation, ranching and oil and gas development.

Chaffetz said that the PLI will enhance local land management and provide immediate certainty to eastern Utah communities.

“This locally driven process has allowed stakeholders to come to the table, engage in conversations, and offer solutions that make the land management system work better for eastern Utah,” Chaffetz said. “We’ve crafted a needed balance between conservation and economic development.”

Draft met with criticism

Bishop released a discussion draft of the bill in February, and it was met with quick condemnation from conservation organizations.

“It’s a shame that discussions that held so much promise have ended so badly,” said Scott Groene, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Executive Director. “There is little chance that what can now be characterized as the Plundered Lands Initiative will pass in this dysfunctional congress with so few legislative days remaining. The real purpose behind the PLI now is to try to run out Obama’s clock on protecting the 1.9 million acre Bears Ears monument.”

A Grand County Council majority also expressed their concerns with the draft PLI, and they wrote a letter to Bishop in March and again in May, saying that they could not support the legislation in its current form.

Bishop sent a representative to Grand County In June to respond to the council’s concerns. He has not yet presented a revision of the draft.

Bishop said he will formally introduce the bill to the House of Representatives during the July/August district work period, with a legislative hearing to be held in September before being brought to the House floor for a vote.

Jewell has said that the administration is committed to letting the legislative process play out, but that if Congress fails to pass any protective measures, the President would use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to set aside more national monuments.

The Bears Ears region is the ancestral homeland to several Native American tribes in the region including the Ute, Hopi and Navajo people. In addition to its scenic landscapes, the area is home to more than 100,000 archaeological sites.

A proposal for a Bears Ears National Monument has the support of an inter-tribal coalition, the National Congress of American Indians, and several environmental organizations who say the designation is needed to protect the region’s cultural heritage and archaeological resources.

Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Ute Mountain Tribal Councilwoman and Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition co-chair said that the PLI does not go far enough in providing protection of the region, and that her organization is lobbying for the President to declare a national monument.

Whiteskunk said that in addition to not setting aside enough land for protection, the PLI falls short by not calling for tribal co-management of the land.

“We want to strongly advocate for this as we move forward,” she said.

The coalition pulled out of PLI negotiations in January saying that their proposal hadn’t been taken seriously by Bishop or the rest of the delegation.

“What we are seeing now is just a continuation of what we have seen all along,” Lopez-Whiteskunk said. “We’ve patiently waited and even now he (Bishop) hasn’t notified us of his plans.”

Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson told the Moab Sun News that he believed that the PLI process has been a good faith effort on the part of Bishop, and elected county officials.

“I believe it is exactly what compromise looks like in a democratic process, and is exactly the way things should proceed with matters of this importance regarding public lands management,” Jackson said. “That being said, I’m certainly not happy with everything in it, just as I know the conservation community is not happy with it. But again, this is compromise, something I think this county has completely lost touch with.”

Jackson said he would encourage Secretary Jewell to support the PLI, and that it was time to bring the Antiquities Act back to its original intent, which he said was to protect “small discreet areas, taking no more land than is necessary.”

“What it has turned into in the last two or three decades is a draconian method to take huge amounts of public land out of multiple-use opportunities, and limit access, particularly to elderly or disabled individuals who can’t back pack into areas,” Jackson said. “I would say to her that there are multiple methods at BLM’s disposal to limit certain types of uses where appropriate to protect the most valuable lands. I would say to her, how much is enough?”

Grand County Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs said that opposition is to be expected from either alternative and that legislative action may be a more politically viable option. But she said that if a community values the assets in a particular area that a monument would certainly provide the protection many are seeking.

“The message that I would like to get across to the Secretary is that local recommendations need to be taken seriously,” Tubbs said. “At this point no one is particularly happy with the PLI and if (Bishop) ignores the needs of communities, they may pull out of the process.”

Tubbs said that overall she would like to see the PLI process continue.

“I believe it provides a better opportunity to work out our differences than either the status quo or the current status of the legislation,” she said.

Lopez-Whiteskunk said that her group is working hard to get people to turn out for the meeting with Secretary Jewell on Saturday. She said that it is important for people to be heard, no matter what their views, and that is the great thing about a democracy.

“The coalition has always taken a spiritual approach to find a solution that will benefit all,” she said. “These are public lands and they belong to everyone, not just Native Americans. We need to find that line where we can all exist and use the land respectfully.”

Local supporters and foes of a Bears Ears monument fill council chambers

When: Saturday, July 16, at 11 a.m.

Where: Buff Community Center, 300 E. Mulberry Street, Bluff, Utah