When the Trump administration moved to shrink Bears Ears National Monument from about 1.4 million acres to 220,000 acres in 2017, it was a clear sign that the feds were open to the area being used for purposes other than cultural or natural appreciation and recreation. Today, they made it official. After stripping monument status from 85 percent of those 1.4 million acres, the BLM would like to begin logging the remaining federally protected acreage, as well as open it to grazing and off-road vehicle use.
Bears Ears would become a monument “in name only,” according to Bobby McEnaney, senior deputy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Western Renewable Energy Project. “They chose the most permissible possible route when it comes to managing [Bears Ears] It’s hard to see this as a monument anymore.”
The plans, which you can read here, include “chaining” hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of acres of juniper forests. Chaining is a destructive though widely used method to clear forested areas for timber and to open space for grazing. Bulldozers drag heavy chains through trees, churning up the ground, which not only dramatically alters the landscape for decades, but destroys any archaeological sites in the chain’s path.
Off-road vehicle use is also on the table for the shrunken national monument, which would not be protected as wilderness under the new rules. Uranium mining and oil drilling are already underway in large parts of the Bears Ears area that were once federally protected.
This all on the heels of the BLM’s recent announcement that it would be relocating its headquarters from Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, Colorado. A move that many have assumed is an attempt to weaken the BLM’s control over public land by increasing state and local power over lands once looked out for by the federal government. Of course, the vast majority of land overseen by BLM is in the West, so the move makes a good deal of sense on the surface. Some fear, however, that state and local officials will have a great deal more influence over a decentralized BLM with less sway in Washington. The result may be more land giveaways, as we’ve seen at Bears Ears.
The new plan is open to a 30-day public protest period, the details of which can be found here. Different than a public comment, a public protest requires the filer to have a list of specific complaints tailored to which part of the plan they believe has been approved in error.
Top photo: Bureau of Land Management