Transcript: Behind the scenes of the Bears Ears draft management plan

May 10, 2024

This is an automatically-generated transcript. Please excuse grammatical and spelling errors. 

Aaron    00:00:07    Welcome to the Landscape, your show about America’s parks and public lands. I’m Aaron Weiss with the Center for Western Priorities, usually based in Denver, but coming to you today from the National Mall in Washington, DC actually inside the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, along with a whole bunch of Colorado eighth graders this week.

Kate    00:00:27    And I’m Kate Groetzinger, coming to you from a partially sunny Salt Lake City. Today on the podcast, we’re talking to folks with the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition about the Bears Ears Draft Monument Management Plan. The Bureau of Land Management is taking public feedback on that plan right now, so keep listening and we’ll tell you how to get involved. But first, the news.

Aaron    00:00:46    Our big news this week comes out of California where President Biden expanded, not one, but two national monuments. The president added over a hundred thousand acres of public land to San Gabriel Mountains National Monument just outside of Los Angeles. He also added nearly 14,000 acres known as Molok Luyuk, or Condor Ridge, to Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. In the northern part of the state, both monuments were originally protected by President Barack Obama. These expansions are the result of years of campaigning by organizers in both areas. The San Gabriel Mountains expansion will increase access to nature for underserved communities in the LA area. The Angeles National Forest, by the way, where this is located already sees more than four and a half million visits every year that is more than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. So this is really about increasing access to nature, that it’s a wonderful thing to see.

Aaron    00:01:41    And Molok Luyuk, uh, is the ancestral home of the Patwin people. It served as an important trade and travel route for indigenous groups. With this expansion, the area’s name will officially change to honor the area’s original inhabitants. Now, these monument expansions are President Biden’s first use of the Antiquities Act in more than six months. So that has leaders of other locally driven monument campaigns, both in California and across the west, hoping that the warm reception that President Biden got with these expansions means he’ll be eager to protect more public land in the coming weeks and months.

Kate    00:02:18    Today we are joined by Davina Smith, who represents the Navajo Nation on the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition. Thank you for being here, Davina.

Davina    00:02:26    Hello. Good afternoon. So glad to be on the show.

Kate    00:02:30    And we’re also joined by Lauren Hinson, who is the Collaborative Management and Tribal support specialist for the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition. Welcome to the landscape, Lauren.

Lauren    00:02:40    Thanks so much for having me.

Kate    00:02:42    Alright, so let’s start off with the basics. What is a Monument management plan and why is it important? Lauren, why don’t you take this one?

Lauren    00:02:50    Sure. Our Monument Management plan is sort of an overarching decision making document that’s intended to protect everything within the landscape of a monument. So from a western planning perspective, this kind of covers all of the resources included in a monument. And from an indigenous perspective, a plan, uh, should protect all the landscape holistically. So from earth to sky, uh, for those that came before, those that are here now and those that have yet to come. And having a plan is important as it will guide how the monument is managed for many years, um, protecting the sacred landscape, and then hopefully adapting to new challenges as they come up. So we’re hoping to have a really adaptive plan that can change as we need it to.

Kate    00:03:39    Awesome. So this is kind of a long-term plan that’s gonna direct the overall management of the monument for a long time. Um, my understanding of this process is that the BLM provides a few alternative plans, um, to the public, and then they, they ask the public to to weigh in on them. Um, can you just, can you sort of explain how those alternatives work and, and which one the BLM picked as it as its preferred alternative?

Lauren    00:04:05    Sure. So this planning process is somewhat unique in that it’s a collaboration between two federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, and then also the five commission tribes. Um, so this planning process all, we’re all kind of coming together to identify, um, what alternatives might be best for, for the monument. And alternatives to plan really just represent a range of options for management for the public to consider. So we could think about maybe an example of a range of alternatives. We think about access to fishing in a river. So a ra a management plan might consider a range of alternatives that include all the way from, you know, completely restricting any fishing access to something in the middle, like only restricting access to fishing during certain seasons, or, you know, key life history time periods like spawning, or there might be a, you know, a, a alternative that allows any type of fishing to happen. So this range of alternatives, um, allows the public to sort of interact and identify, um, you know, which one makes the most sense to them. Um, but in the management plan, the agencies, so in this case, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service and the tribes, uh, and this particular planning case will indicate the alternative that they think will best protect and manage the monument. Um, and then this plan that, or alternative, the preferred alternative is alternative e

Aaron    00:05:39    Davina, if you could walk us through the process that happened with tribal engagement here. Uh, bears Ears obviously was a tribally driven monument proposal, but, uh, what is the Bears Ears Commission and how is that different from the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition?

Davina    00:05:57    Yeah. Um, so back in October of 2021, president Biden, um, issued Proclamation, uh, 1 0 2 85, um, which as we know, restored Bears National Monument. And then recognized, um, also the importance of knowledge of tribal nations in managing the monument by, um, reconstituting the Bearers Commission. Um, and that was, um, established by President O Obama back in 2016. So with the Bearers Commission that consisted of one elected tribal leader from each of the five tribes, um, for the, but for the Navajo Nation that I represent, um, it, we also have a coalition representative, which I am that coalition representative. We do have a Navajo commissioner who is actually a council delegate for the Utah Navajo Nation.

Kate    00:06:55    Um, Davina, can you describe the Bayer’s Intertribal Coalition? Because that’s, that’s what you’re on and I think that sometimes it gets confusing with the commission and the coalition. Um, so what is the coalition?

Davina    00:07:07    So the coalition is, um, I basically the boss of the Bears Ears, our Tribal Coalition staff. Um, and it, it’s basically collaborating with the commission Tribal leaders, um, and, and offering support as, as we have Lauren on the show who specifically her focus is on the alternative ease. And we have two co-directors, Hillary Hoffman and Charissa, um, that both, um, delegate in terms of, um, looking at the lens of, you know, um, our resource management plan and EIS, but also looking at day-to-Day operations. And we have also other, a number of other staff that look at, you know, community engagement, um, uh, ethnographic and also, um, plants and medicine. So all of that combines with the coalition to support the Tribal Commission and then also the commission, the Bergers Commission at the time when it was established, um, didn’t really have a home. So it just made perfect sense to be, um, collaborated with the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition.

Aaron    00:08:14    Got it. Alright. So that then brings us to this alternative e that Lauren mentioned. The M’s preferred alternative, uh, was that in fact the alternative that had the most tribal input? And, and what was that, uh, what was that like when that document finally came down to see that this was the direction BLM was going?

Davina    00:08:36    It was about about 18 months of us coming together, each of the tribes. And it wasn’t just only the commission, it was also our, um, subcommittees. So that consists of, um, each tribe bringing in their, um, their representatives with a, uh, extensive background in, um, cultural understandings from, from land management plants, but also our indigenous knowledges, um, that could pertain to ceremonies and what it meant for that, utilizing plants, and also the importance of water and wildlife. So everything that consists from our, um, traditional, um, integration of each of our tribes that we, you know, every day would, um, coordinate with Lauren in terms of our knowledges that was implemented in Alterna e

Kate    00:09:30    Davina. Let’s talk about what’s in the preferred alternative now. What are some of the most important aspects of the plan to the Navajo tribe and to the other tribes in the commission?

Davina    00:09:41    So I can only speak for the Navajo Nation, um, because that’s, that is who I was, um, specifically to advocate on behalf of. So example would be firewood, you know, firewood from, for us is, um, as I’ve expressed before, it’s a living, it’s, it’s a living fire. And what does that mean? It means our traditional knowledges of what the story of Fire meant for our Navajo people in terms of, of course, ultimately warmth, but also it firewood was used for many reasons. Um, we used it for our homes, our Hogans, the Cedar Post that was harvested from Bears Ears was, was harvested from that area. But also it was, it, you know, there’s, and I can’t go into great detail because the sum of that is also protected in terms of our ceremonies, but every part of the, the wood was utilized for not only home, but also for ceremonies.

Aaron    00:10:40    So Lauren, what was that process like working with BLM, giving them information on, on things like firewood gathering, why that’s so important? Uh, what was the, the working process like over those 18 months that you talked about?

Lauren    00:10:56    It consisted of many meetings, um, many meetings of our cultural resources subcommittee that Divina mentioned, um, that consists of traditional knowledge holders of natural resource professionals, um, you know, basically tribal representatives that are designated to help inform their commissioner about kinda specific resource issues in the monument. And then coming together and really sharing all of their expertise, uh, and then meeting with the commission as well to share the cultural resources subcommittee’s, um, feedback on these documents. And then the commission, you know, meeting with the agencies many, many times to share, um, this expertise, to share feedback. Uh, so there’s a combination of both, um, you know, working together through meetings, through documents, through calls, through landscape visits, through, uh, we have a youth, um, an elder Conservation Corps that goes out in the landscape and also talked about these types of issues and these, uh, types of considerations in the plan.

Lauren    00:11:59    And additionally, prior to the planning process, the coalition and some of the, some of the biggest work of the coalition prior to the print planning process was to create, uh, tribally led, uh, land management plan. Um, and that was something that was delivered to the agencies in the summer of 2022. So this tribal land management plan was kind of used as a, as a scaffold and as a guiding document for this new monument management plan. Uh, so there’s been a lot of extensive collaboration, uh, throughout this, this process with, with the agencies, the commission cultural resources subcommittee, and we’ve also been out, um, in communities to, you know, make sure that their voices are heard by elected leadership and the commission.

Kate    00:12:44    Lauren, um, I know that there was some planning going on for the monument before Trump attempted to shrink the boundaries. How did that action, um, set back the planning process, if at all?

Lauren    00:12:56    Sure. So, um, one of the, one of the things that actually ne necessitated this, um, new monument management plan was the reinstatement of the original boundaries of the monument. So the same plan that applied to kind of the shrunken boundaries from Trump, um, you know, wouldn’t necessarily cover, uh, the entirety of the monument as it, as it now stands under the, the Biden proclamations. So I think that was a big planning change, um, and there is some interest in making sure that this plan, um, comes out this year.

Aaron    00:13:31    Makes sense. Davina, as we’re into this public comment period in BLM, looking now at the, the feedback that’s coming in on the alternatives, is there anything, uh, left out of alternative e or that the, uh, that you’d like to see strengthened in the final management plan when that gets done?

Davina    00:13:52    I think the most important thing, as Lauren mentioned, and I had mentioned, you know, 18 months of, uh, coal commission and subcommittees, um, from each of the tribes coming together, I feel that, uh, we definitely intertwined or woven in a lot of our indigenous knowledges in terms of strengthening. I think that is as, as this is just a draft right now. And that is why input public input is really important because that’s, as tribes, that’s the most important thing we want, is to work collaboratively, not only with agencies, but with also the public as well. And so to hear what their public comments are, we definitely wanna take that into consideration. Um, but the most important thing is that, um, that indigenous knowledges is implemented in this, uh, management plan.

Kate    00:14:44    Davina, I have a follow up question for you. If people are reading through the plan and they notice things that they think maybe don’t protect wildlife enough or are, are not protecting cultural sites should, can they reach out to the coalition about that? Um, before submitting comments? What’s the best way to go about that? If people are really, you know, interested in providing their feedback, but they don’t wanna accidentally, um, undercut the tribal knowledge?

Davina    00:15:12    Absolutely. I, right now, uh, we are, we’ve had a couple, a number of public hearing comments, some we just completed last night, our second virtual public hearing comment. Um, but we still have three more in person and I really encourage those to attend those public hearing comments and engage with, um, the commission and coalition, uh, leadership. ’cause we definitely want to hear if there’s something that you’re unsure of or you need more, um, explanation or clarification on, definitely come and, you know, engage with us as well. ’cause we are there alongside with the, um, agencies.

Kate    00:15:51    Cool. We’ll make sure to drop the links to those in our show notes.

Aaron    00:15:55    Lauren, I wanna ask about how this plan balances the preservation and protection of cultural sites with the increased recreation and visitation that we know comes along with a national monument designation. Did BLM manage to, to thread that needle here?

Lauren    00:16:14    I think in the preferred alternative, um, there is a, a recognition that, and a kind of hearkening back to the proclamation that says, well, rec recreation is an allowed use of the monument. Um, the, the proclamation requires that the management plan protects what it calls monument objects. So monument objects can be, you know, many important things in the monument that are listed in the proclamation. Uh, so cultural resources, plants, animals. And with this in mind, I think the plan intends to, you know, make sure that there is still public access to the monument, um, and make sure that people are still able to, you know, recreate, but that there’s monitoring of the impacts of that access, that there’s, you know, adaptive management practices, so things like closures to areas that we’re seeing a lot of impacts. Things like seasonal closures or closures for ceremony, closures for, um, the land to be able to rest. Um, but also, you know, making sure that people are able to, you know, recreate in these landscapes in a way that’s respectful of the sacred nature of this landscape, but kind of also respectful of, of, um, that access for folks.

Aaron    00:17:28    And I suppose all of that gets multiplied when you’re talking about off-roading, OHV use. Uh, how did the, the plan do in terms of identifying areas where it is safe or appropriate to do that versus areas that that need to be closed off?

Lauren    00:17:42    Sure. So under the per alternative, currently, uh, the majority of the monument is classified as OHP limited. And this classification really, uh, means that there’s a little bit, gives the commission and the agency’s a little more time to determine how, you know, folks are using these OHP areas. Um, and it’s, it’s a little more adaptive, it’s a little bit more malleable. Um, instead of, you know, saying that this is areas either completely open or completely closed, um, it allows for a little bit more flexibility, um, to identify, oh, well perhaps folks from the Navajo nation are, are using these roads to, um, access wood harvest areas. Um, and making sure that, you know, we’re not cutting off that type of access. But also making sure that there’s areas that are seeing impacts to cultural resources that are seeing impacts to wildlife or plants from OHB use, that those areas can be closed either, you know, seasonally or can be closed, um, for periods of time for landscape rest.

Kate    00:18:42    Um, Davina, I know you mentioned that you guys, the coalition are hold is holding, um, public hearings for the public to, to provide feedback on the plan and to learn about the plan. Um, are those happening in tribal communities and are you doing any other tribal, um, outreach about the plan in communities on reservations and tribal areas?

Davina    00:19:05    So the outreach, um, I mean it is under the BLM website in terms of where the public hearing comm is, but we wanted to go further in terms of engaging with our tribal community. So our coalition staff, um, Harrison Gorman is a community director and he has, um, engaged with each of the commission and coalition leaders, um, in their communities to ha set up. Um, we have a public, uh, screening that’s been, um, conducted also, um, just background about the, the Bearers, our tribal coalition, the resource management plan. Also, another area that, um, our comms director is utilizing is radio because a number of these tribal communities, their main access is radio, so utilizing radio, but also newspaper in the Navajo Times. Um, commissioner Uni to and I, um, with the support of the comms director implemented an op-ed about the Bears Ears Resource Management plan. So, um, definitely have the staff that’s collaborating with the agencies in terms of getting that word out to our tribal communities.

Aaron    00:20:13    And then what comes next? What kind of timeframe are we on? You mentioned hopefully BLM getting this done by the end of the year. Um, how long is the public comment process and then, uh, and then what comes between point A and point B and hopefully having this management plan, uh, locked in place?

Lauren    00:20:31    Sure. Um, so the end of the public comment period is June 11th. So that’s important for folks to know for submitting public comments, um, and for also attending these, these public comment hearings. And then following that, there’s sort of a, a, um, set of review periods that lead up to kind of the final release date of the plan, which we are hoping, uh, in sort of late, um, fall, uh, early spring next year. That’s kind of the, the, uh, deadline for releasing the plan. Uh, but there’s a series of, uh, government review periods and then also some review periods by the commission, uh, where the plan will sort of be, uh, reviewed, public comments will be reviewed and then incorporated into the plan, uh, responded to. So any substantive public comments that are received, any comments that include new information, any comments that have, um, you know, specific questions, specific information that could be, uh, responded to in the plan will be, will be responded to by the agencies, um, also in collaboration with the commission.

Kate    00:21:36    Awesome. Well, I wanna just open the floor really quick and ask both of you. Is there anything else you want people to know about this plan? Um, either it’s historic significance or, um, what’s actually in it?

Davina    00:21:51    For me, it’s a bit of both because it is historic in terms of tribal input. I think that’s the one thing I, as I’ve, I I’ll share, attending some of the public hearing. I think there’s this hesitancy from non-natives to engage. And that is why we felt this is the time to definitely, this is what collaboration looks like. And, um, I know also that change is hard and so we’re, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s gonna be difficult, but that’s why we as commission and coalition felt this would be a perfect time at these public hearing, public comment hearings to engage with us and to get that clarification. And, and rather than this assumption of whether it’s gonna be like, oh, everything’s gonna close, there’s gonna be no access, which is not the case. Um, so I encourage, you know, with the remaining of the, the in-person public comment hearings, um, to attend and to engage with us. And so I, and I hope, you know, we can continue to move forward in that, um, that, that aspect. So.

Kate    00:22:57    Awesome. Anything from you, Lauren?

Lauren    00:23:00    Sure. Yeah, I think I’ll just echo Dina’s, um, comments that I think the commission is really excited to hear what the public has to say about this plan, and that this plan does really reflect extensive tribal input collaboration, um, also compromise in some areas, but that it’s really innovative and it’s new and exciting. Um, if you read through the plan, you’ll see almost every section includes traditional indigenous knowledge, um, and includes, uh, many other aspects of tribal expertise that are pretty foreign to monument management plans and resource management plans. So this is a new type of plan, um, and it’s exciting to see that it might potentially get implemented, um, that it’s getting out to the public. And we’re excited for the next steps.

Kate    00:23:49    All right. Well, we’ll leave it there. Davina Smith, Navajo Nation representative on the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, and Lauren Henson, collaboration, collaborative Management and Tribal Support Specialist for the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition. Thank you both for being here today.

Lauren    00:24:05    Thank you so much. Thank you.

Kate    00:24:13    In good news this week, Democrats in the House are asking the government accountability office to investigate foreign owned companies that mine on US public lands. And a letter to the GAO the lawmakers wrote that there is evidence that companies seeking federal mineral leases may be subsidiaries of foreign companies, including adversarial countries accused of serious human rights and environmental violations. Now, maybe I’m getting ahead of my skis here, but I could see a world in which the same lawmakers introduce legislation barring these companies from operating on public lands in the United States, which would be pretty awesome. But first, let’s see what the GAO report finds,

Aaron    00:24:58    And that’ll do it for us today. Be sure to check out the links in the show notes to learn more about submitting public comments on that Bears Ears Management Plan. You can submit a comment just broadly in support of the tribal plan if you don’t have anything specific to add, but of course, specific feedback always goes even farther. And always feel free to reach out to us here at the landscape that email is podcast@westernpriorities.org.

Kate    00:25:23    Thanks again to Davina and Lauren for their time today. And thank you for listening to the Landscape.