Moon House ruin in the Bears Ears National Monument. [Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management]

Maintaining the rural character of San Juan County was a common concern expressed by residents at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) “economic strategies workshop” held on June 6 in Monticello.

Approximately two dozen citizens representing a variety of interests and perspectives attended the two-hour meeting regarding potential socioeconomic impacts of Bears Ears National Monument.

The BLM’s outdoor recreation planner and economist Bill Stevens presented a “condensed socioeconomic profile” of San Juan County — data collected from a wide variety of sources — as the agency works on drafting a management plan for Bears Ears.

The BLM, the lead agency in drafting the monument management plan, and the lead cooperating agency, the U.S. Forest Service, hosted the meeting to give residents an opportunity to add their input regarding social and economic impacts from the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.

The BLM is seeking additional economic information, desired socioeconomic outcomes and other feedback from community members for its baseline report.

Monticello’s economic development and visitor services director for San Juan County, Natalie Randall, noted that some attendees expressed concern about increased visitation since the designation; people told the BLM and forest service they wanted to ensure protections are in place to mitigate increased usage.

The county is working with the BLM to provide information to visitors, and to make sure the agency is aware of impacts from an influx of people visiting the monument, Randall said.

She also noted attendees added to the BLM’s stakeholder list to include more local businesses

“We feel the monument has the potential to positively impact,” the community, Randall said. “We’re promoting sustainable tourism. We see it as an opportunity to extend visitor stays — that’s our goal,” not just pass-through traffic.

Comments made at the meeting and submitted in writing will be reviewed and considered in finalizing the socioeconomic baseline report and draft analysis for the Bears Ears National Monument Proposed Management Plan, scheduled for public review later this summer.

The BLM said it is committed to facilitating economic opportunities on public lands to create jobs and help local communities grow. The workshop was an opportunity for business owners, community leaders, local government officials, and other citizens to talk about their economic and social goals for the local community.

An example of a social impact is livestock grazing. While ranching is not a huge economic driver in the region, it is an important factor in how the community views itself, said Lisa Bryant, public affairs specialist for the BLM Canyon Country District. The BLM is considering the region’s social values as it prepares its monument management plan. In general, residents of the area want the region to remain rural, Bryant said.

“Participants engaged in thoughtful discussion and provided varied input on local economic goals and the potential impacts of increased visitation in the area,” Bryant said.

The city of Monticello was initially opposed to the creation of Bears Ears National Monument, said city manager Doug Wright, who attended the meeting. Since the designation, Monticello has not taken a formal stance one way or another, he said.

The city just wants to work with area businesses to help create a positive experience for both residents and visitors, he said.

“I think most residents have come to accept there is a monument; and there’s a valid reason for the monument,” Wright said. “The monument is here and so we need to stop the political rhetoric against it and start focusing on improving infrastructure to support businesses,” that may benefit from having a nearby national monument.

“As people come in to the area we want them to have a positive experience,” Wright said.

The Bears Ears area is known for its cultural, historical, and scientific value; several Native American tribes in the region participated in efforts to preserve the area. President Obama designated via the Antiquities Act, approximately 1.35 million acres of federal lands as Bears Ears National Monument December 28, 2016.

President Trump subsequently, after he took office, reduced the monument’s size to approximately 201,876 acres. The administration has directed the BLM to complete its monument management plan within a year.

“We anticipate releasing a Proposed Monument Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement in the late summer or early fall and plan to complete the process the first part of next year,” Bryant said

The BLM said it has involved the public from the beginning of the planning process and will continue to seek public input throughout the process.

The agency also recognizes the importance of tribal participation in the planning and management of the monument. Both the BLM and the forest service continue to reach out to tribes for consultation.

The planning area is located in San Juan County and encompasses approximately 169,289 acres of BLM-managed lands, and 32,587 acres of national forest lands.

The BLM Canyon Country District office in Moab is preparing a monument management plan for the Bears Ears National Monument Indian Creek Unit and will prepare jointly with the Manti La-Sal National Forest a management plan for the Shash Jaa Unit, as well as an environmental impact statement.

“The BLM appreciates everyone who participated in the economic strategies workshop for the Bears Ears National Monument management planning effort, and the thoughtful feedback will help the BLM prepare the socioeconomic baseline report and draft environmental impact statement.” Canyon Country BLM District Manager Lance Porter said.

The planning team is reviewing comments received earlier this year from various groups including tribes, motorized and non-motorized recreation groups, local governments, environmental groups, and individuals.

A scoping report summarizing all of the public comments will soon be made available on the BLM’s ePlanning project page.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Bears Ears National Monument Management Plan are expected to be released for a 90-day public review and comment period later this summer.

Written comments regarding the socioeconomic analysis will be accepted via email at through the close of the business day on Friday, June 15.

Comments due Friday, June 15; Officials held meeting June 6 in Monticello

Written comments regarding the socioeconomic analysis will be accepted via email at through the close of the business day on Friday, June 15.

“We anticipate releasing a Proposed Monument Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement in the late summer or early fall and plan to complete the process the first part of next year.”