Bears Ears National Monument Comments

By Jerry Smith
Director of Environmental Affairs – United Four Wheel Drive Associations

Re:  DOI-2017-0002 and Executive Order 13792

Section 2 of the Antiquities Act reads as follows;

Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected:

Nowhere in the Antiquities Act are things like scenic values, geologic or heritage sites, cultural sites, Wilderness, or Roadless Areas mentioned.  Protection of plant life or wildlife is not within the purview of the Act.

Bears Ears National Monument is a United States National Monument located in San Juan County in southeastern Utah. The monument encompasses 1,351,849 acres.

Reading the Presidential Proclamation — Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument, you will see references to things that have no relationship to “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” 

The following is a long example of the wording of the proclamation.

“The area’s cultural importance to Native American tribes continues to this day. As they have for generations, these tribes and their members come here for ceremonies and to visit sacred sites.  Throughout the region, many landscape features, such as Comb Ridge, the San Juan River, and Cedar Mesa, are closely tied to native stories of creation, danger, protection, and healing. The towering spires in the Valley of the Gods are sacred to the Navajo, representing ancient Navajo warriors frozen in stone.”

“The area’s stunning geology, from sharp pinnacles to broad mesas, labyrinthine canyons to solitary hoodoos, and verdant hanging gardens to bare stone arches and natural bridges, provides vital insights to geologists. In the east, the Abajo Mountains tower, reaching elevations of more than 11,000 feet. A long geologic history is documented in the colorful rock layers visible in the area’s canyons.”

Local communities seeking to protect the mountains for their watershed values have long recognized the importance of the Bears Ears’ headwaters. Wildfires, both natural and human-set, have shaped and maintained forests and grasslands of this area for millennia. Ranchers have relied on the forests and grasslands of the region for ages, and hunters come from across the globe for a chance at a bull elk or other big game. Today, ecological restoration through the careful use of wildfire and management of grazing and timber is working to restore and maintain the health of these vital watersheds and grasslands.”

“The diversity of the soils and microenvironments in the Bears Ears area provide habitat for a wide variety of vegetation. The highest elevations, in the Elk Ridge area of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, contain pockets of ancient Engelmann spruce, ponderosa pine, aspen, and subalpine fir. Mesa tops include pinyon-juniper woodlands along with big sagebrush, low sage, black brush, rabbit brush, bitterbrush, four-wing saltbush, shad scale, winter fat, Utah serviceberry, western chokecherry, hackberry, barberry, cliff rose, and greasewood. Canyons contain diverse vegetation ranging from yucca and cacti such as prickly pear, claret cup, and Whipple’s fishhook to mountain mahogany, ponderosa pine, alder, sagebrush, birch, dogwood, and Gambel’s oak, along with occasional stands of aspen. Grasses and herbaceous species such as bluegrass, bluestem, giant ryegrass, ricegrass, needle and thread, yarrow, common mallow, balsamroot, low larkspur, horsetail, and peppergrass also grow here, as well as pinnate spring parsley, Navajo penstemon, Canyonlands lomatium, and the Abajo daisy.”

“Tucked into winding canyons are vibrant riparian communities characterized by Fremont cottonwood, western sandbar willow, yellow willow, and box elder. Numerous seeps provide year-round water and support delicate hanging gardens, moisture-loving plants, and relict species such as Douglas fir. A few populations of the rare Kachina daisy, endemic to the Colorado Plateau, hide in shaded seeps and alcoves of the area’s canyons. A genetically distinct population of Kachina daisy was also found on Elk Ridge. The alcove columbine and cave primrose, also regionally endemic, grow in seeps and hanging gardens in the Bears Ears landscape. Wildflowers such as beardtongue, evening primrose, aster, Indian paintbrush, yellow and purple beeflower, straight bladderpod, Durango tumble mustard, scarlet gilia, globe mallow, sand verbena, sego lily, cliffrose, sacred datura, monkey flower, sunflower, prince’s plume, hedgehog cactus, and columbine, bring bursts of color to the landscape.”

“The diverse vegetation and topography of the Bears Ears area, in turn, support a variety of wildlife species. Mule deer and elk range on the mesas and near canyon heads, which provide crucial habitat for both species. The Cedar Mesa landscape is home to bighorn sheep which were once abundant but still live in Indian Creek, and in the canyons north of the San Juan River. Small mammals such as desert cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, prairie dog, Botta’s pocket gopher, white-tailed antelope squirrel, Colorado chipmunk, canyon mouse, deer mouse, pinyon mouse, and desert wood rat, as well as Utah’s only population of Abert’s tassel-eared squirrels, find shelter and sustenance in the landscape’s canyons and uplands. Rare shrews, including a variant of Merriam’s shrew and the dwarf shrew can be found in this area.”

“Carnivores, including badger, coyote, striped skunk, ringtail, gray fox, bobcat, and the occasional mountain lion, all hunt here, while porcupines use their sharp quills and climbing abilities to escape these predators. Oral histories from the Ute describe the historic presence of bison, antelope, and abundant bighorn sheep, which are also depicted in ancient rock art. Black bear pass through the area but are rarely seen, though they are common in the oral histories and legends of this region, including those of the Navajo.”

“Consistent sources of water in a dry landscape draw diverse wildlife species to the area’s riparian habitats, including an array of amphibian species such as tiger salamander, red-spotted toad, Woodhouse’s toad, canyon tree frog, Great Basin Spadefoot, and northern leopard frog. Even the most sharp-eyed visitors probably will not catch a glimpse of the secretive Utah night lizard. Other reptiles in the area include the sagebrush lizard, eastern fence lizard, tree lizard, side-blotched lizard, plateau striped whiptail, western rattlesnake, night snake, striped whipsnake, and gopher snake.”

“Raptors such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, northern harrier, northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, American kestrel, flammulated owl, and great horned owl hunt their prey on the mesa tops with deadly speed and accuracy. The largest contiguous critical habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl is on the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Other bird species found in the area include Merriam’s turkey, Williamson’s sapsucker, common nighthawk, white-throated swift, ash-throated flycatcher, violet-green swallow, cliff swallow, mourning dove, pinyon jay, sagebrush sparrow, canyon towhee, rock wren, sage thrasher, and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.”

“As the skies darken in the evenings, visitors may catch a glimpse of some the area’s at least 15 species of bats, including the big free-tailed bat, pallid bat, Townsend’s big-eared bat, spotted bat, and silver-haired bat. Tinajas, rock depressions filled with rainwater, provide habitat for many specialized aquatic species, including pothole beetles and freshwater shrimp. Eucosma navajoensis, an endemic moth that has only been described near Valley of the Gods, is unique to this area.”

While an apt description of the area and its inhabitants, this is largely irrelevant to the Antiquities Act.

The Proclamation also states;

Protection of the Bears Ears area will preserve its cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy and maintain its diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of this area remain for the benefit of all Americans. The Bears Ears area has been proposed for protection by members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, State and tribal leaders, and local conservationists for at least 80 years. The area contains numerous objects of historic and of scientific interest, and it provides world class outdoor recreation opportunities, including rock climbing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Because visitors travel from near and far, these lands support a growing travel and tourism sector that is a source of economic opportunity for the region.”

In all its lavish description, no mentions are made of the current motorized recreation opportunities that abound in the Bears Ears area.  In fact, many of the non-motorized recreational opportunities require vehicular access to accomplish their desired goals.  With the vastness of 1.3 million acres comes overwhelming distances needed to be traversed to access these “world-class” outdoor recreation opportunities.

Under typical management of a National Monument, most of the reasons to want to come to this area will be eliminated because the motorized access will be closed to the public.

The idea that National Monument designation will increase tourism is false.  In reality, it will dramatically decrease tourism in ways similar to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The tribal leaders mentioned in the proclamation are largely as fictitious as the quantities of paid people bused in from out of state to bolster support for former Secretary Jewel’s visit to the area.

Actual local tribal leaders and members are largely against the National Monument designation.  Their access to tribal activities such as the gathering of firewood, pine nuts, medicinal herbs, and sacred sites will be substantially curtailed.  Traditional ceremonial sites will become inaccessible as well.

Utah’s congressional delegation, the governor, and counties affected were ALL opposed to this designation.

With the total lack of local public input into designations under the Antiquities Act, the economies of the surrounding area are seldom given any thought.  People who have never seen, nor are likely to ever see the area make decisions in places far from the areas in question.  They have no direct interest.  They have nothing to lose.

Only their selfish desire to “preserve” and “protect” something they have no real interest in drives these decisions.

People who have direct interest in these lands are few.  The area is remote with little human population and the economies are not always healthy.  Some of those inhabitants largely depend on the land for their subsistence and existence.

Removing motorized access to these lands will mean they can no longer survive in the manner they presently do.  The exodus from the area results in impacts to local property values, the tax base, and entities like schools become crippled for money so their student’s educations suffer greatly.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) defines “multiple use”, “public involvement”, and “sustained yield” as;




The term “multiple use” means the manage­ment of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; the use of some land for less than all of the resources; a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that takes into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and non-renewable resources, including, but not limited to, recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife and fish, and natural scenic, scientific and historical values; and harmonious and coordinated

management of the various resources without per­manent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment with considera­tion being given to the relative values of the resources and not necessarily to the combination of uses that will give the greatest economic return or the greatest unit output.


The term “public involvement” means the opportunity for participation by affected citizens in rule making, decision making, and planning with respect to the public lands, including public meet­ings or hearings held at locations near the affected lands, or advisory mechanisms, or such other pro­cedures as may be necessary to provide public comment in a particular instance.


The term “sustained yield” means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the public lands consistent with multiple use.





Sec. 202 (f)

The Secretary shall allow an opportunity for public involvement and by regulation shall estab­lish procedures, including public hearings where appropriate, to give Federal, State, and local gov­ernments and the public, adequate notice and opportunity to comment upon and participate in the formulation of plans and programs relating to

the management of the public lands.

While the Antiquities Act grants certain powers to the President, the President must rely on certain information from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) BEFORE writing a proclamation such as the one above in determining the size, boundaries, and “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States”.

In determining these things, the BLM must abide by land use laws like NEPA and FLPMA.  This is “Land Use Planning” 101.  The questions of “when was the public involvement” in this process and when were public meetings held need answers.  This would seem a violation of the law or at the very least a violation of procedure.

Much of the western public lands are vast tracts of wild, untamed country.  Even as large as these areas are, they each have many unique qualities.  The lands are rich in historical places and things.  Much of our heritage and culture as Americans thrive in having access to the history and cultural places of days gone by.

Some families have used the same hunting grounds for generations.  Those families have occupied the same campsites year after year while access has not been denied.

Other families have grown up going to the same areas to camp, fish, ride OHVs, and learn to be with nature.

To deprive these family traditions is in no way practicing “Sustained Yield” or “Multiple Use”.  Recreational uses can be “sustainable” if given the chance.  When issues arise, a call for volunteers to remedy the issue will nearly always bet met with great enthusiasm.  If government would just get out of the way, volunteers could do much of the necessary work.

The distinction between lands designated as national parks and national monuments are not widely known or understood.  One of the primary differences is in the management goals of each.

National Parks are protected primarily for their scenic, inspirational, educational, and recreational values.  National Parks are designated by congress.

National monuments have objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest.  They are not so much about the land as they are about the objects.  One person, the US President, often designates National Monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Using the Grand Canyon National Park as an example, in 2016 they claim 5,969,811 visitors came to the park.

“The North Rim, it invokes a sense of solitude and serenity.” That’s what the National Park Service would have you believe. With nearly 6,000,000 annual visitors, where and when are you going to feel “a sense of solitude and serenity”?

When you are standing shoulder to shoulder on the platforms they have to view the Grand Canyon, just the clicks of all the cameras will nearly deafen you. Does that sound like “serenity”? Can you imagine “solitude” with 3300 people per day average in the months that they are open on the north rim?

This is the way the National Park Service describes the attributes of National Parks and National Monuments.

They manage vast areas for the views from small, controlled places someone decides are “THE” place to achieve solitude and serenity and “enjoy” the area. Solitude and serenity are not achieved near as well standing shoulder to shoulder with 50 other people at a viewpoint.

The BLM has managed these lands adequately since its inception.  The “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” have survived just fine under “multiple use” management.  Will public viewpoints allow for the continuation of “protecting and preserving” these objects or call attention to them increasing the probability that someone will deface or destroy them?

It is for these reasons that the United Four Wheel Drive Associations prefer that the Bears Ears area be managed as it has been for many years.  The designation of National Monument is unnecessary, unwise, and unlawful.

About the United Four Wheel Drive Associations (UFWDA).

UFWDA shall be a non-profit corporation organized for the purpose of promoting the continued growth and organization of recreational four-wheel drive motor vehicle activities and maintaining access for recreational opportunities through education partnerships, stewardship and political awareness.

The Board of Directors of the United Four Wheel Drive Associations are often asked; “What do you do for us?”

Above is just one example of what we provide in the name of Land Use issues.  I know it is awfully long, but this is fairly typical of the comments I write and the arguments crafted.  Please take a few minutes to read this to see the work required to put something like this together.

Having read the many land use laws and rules is the first requirement.  Most of them I’m sure you have never heard of, but when you are working to keep Jeep trails open for motorized use, you must load your gun with knowledge of these laws.  They are the weapons used by the army of attorneys the Preservationistas use, so we must use them even better.