On July 16, I went to the public hearing in Bluff, Utah, regarding the potential Bears Ears National Monument. The turnout was quite large. Upon registering in attendance, I chose not to take a lottery number to speak as it was obvious there were plenty of others advocating my position and they were likely better speakers than me, so I opted to submit my comments on the card they offered and just listen.
And listen I did. I did not hear all of the speakers, but I did hear most of them. It sounded to me that a bit more than half of them were supportive of the monument and many on both sides stressed they wanted the whole process to be fair.
The Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, along with other government officials, representatives of several Native American tribes, staffers from Utah Gov. Herbert, Utah Sens. Hatch and Lee, and Rep. Chaffetz all spoke briefly or read prepared statements. The secretary said she was there to listen to input. The Native American speakers sounded mostly in favor of the monument, and the Utah state and congressional delegation advocated for what is called the Public Lands Initiative (PLI).
The PLI has been criticized for not going far enough to preserve the area and for basically being a “sellout” for oil and gas extraction, etc. It is also criticized for only having anecdotal participation from just enough conservation and Native American groups to claim that they are all in agreement. From what I’ve read, those criticisms are likely valid.
The use of the Antiquities Act to create a 1.9-million-acre national monument also has its critics. From “it was never intended to be used for this kind of thing” to “a radical abuse of federal overreach that ignores local input,” etc., I can see how both of these could be true given certain circumstances.
Regardless of your views on either of these, this is a big deal in our part of the country. So big that Secretary Jewell and other officials spent a few days touring the area and taking input from local elected and Native American leaders. And this meeting in Bluff was the only meeting where most of the residents that live the closest, and might have the most to say, could address their comments directly to the “powers that be.” I think that’s a pretty cool thing.
However, I couldn’t help but notice, and eventually be bothered by, the fact that the Utah congressional delegation and governor only sent their staffers to read their statements promoting the PLI. The PLI was their creation, and this was the one day they could have promoted it in person to the very constituents it would effect the most. Yet they were not there. Several Native American speakers mentioned their desire to have a seat at the table; yet on this day, here was the figurative table, and approximately 1,500 people who cared enough to show up and endure the heat and sit at that table and provide input, and the Utah delegation chose not to show.
Maybe they had “higher commitments.” Or perhaps they didn’t want to present themselves in a situation where they would actually have to listen or even defend their actions to their own constituents. I don’t really know. Whatever the reason, to me their absence was disingenuous and I felt snubbed.
If public support for the PLI is as strong as proponents say it is, this would have been a spectacular photo-op that I would expect Chaffetz, Lee, Hatch and Herbert to be interested in. After all, they are (with the exception of Hatch) up for election this fall. If our elected officials are not willing to show up in person for issues this big in our part of the state, who/ what are they representing? Which brings out my point: I don’t think they represent southeastern Utah very well.
Rep. Chaffetz’ congressional opponent, Stephen Tryon, was at the hearing in Bluff – early enough in line to get in the building too. That says a lot. I met him and he seems like a well qualified and worthy candidate. I’d like to invite Mr. Tryon and Rep. Chaffetz to debate each other here in southeastern Utah before voting begins. The same goes for Sen. Lee and his opponent Misty Snow, as well as Gov. Herbert and opponent Michael Weinholtz. Our issues here in southeastern Utah are not the same as those on the Wasatch Front. Come listen to us and demonstrate that you’re interested in representing this part of Utah as well. If enough people write these candidates’ campaigns and request rural debates, better representation could happen.
Thank you for your time.