Washington, D.C. (September 22, 2016) – Today’s House markup of H.R 5780, Representative Rob Bishop’s (R, UT) Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI) represents yet another chapter in the long and sordid history of this disastrous bill. While the addition of a Bears Ears Commission that would elevate tribal voices is a positive change, the foundation and framework remain problematic in innumerable ways. The PLI is a step back to the nineteenth century, affronting the sovereignty of the Ute Tribe of Utah. PLI would also belittle the voice of Native American Tribes in the management of the Bears Ears cultural landscape and turn over public lands and public roads to the State of Utah at the expense of the American public. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (BEITC) also condemns the rush job Chairman Bishop has applied to PLI in the closing days of the 114th Congress, and we stand in unified opposition to PLI.
“The Utah delegation keeps trying to prop up the PLI as the answer to the public lands issues in Utah,” said Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk. “The reality is that this bill is absolutely ludicrous and shameful. The PLI proposes to transfer 100, 000 acres of the Ute Tribe of Utah’s Uncompaghre Reservation to the State of Utah for fossil fuel development. It would also hand control over permitting and regulation of energy development on federal lands to the State. This would place our common cultural, air, and water resources in greater jeopardy. The Coalition cannot in good conscience stay silent on the imminent danger posed by this bill.”
In addition, designation of the Bears Ears landscape as a national conservation area, as proposed in the PLI, offers insufficient protections from development that conflicts with protection of cultural resources. The PLI also proposes to give thousands of miles of public roads to the State of Utah, some that pass through culturally sensitive areas and wilderness quality lands. Allowing the state to own public roads, and to construct, improve, and promote them for irresponsible off-road vehicle use runs counter to the effective protection of cultural resources.
As drafted, the PLI also fails to protect over half a million acres of the Bears Ears region as proposed by the BEITC. Considerable efforts were made by traditional and cultural leaders to account for every acre in the BEITC’s proposed national monument, and PLI’s considerable omission of these lands that are so worthy of protection is unacceptable.
“The Coalition’s call to protect 1.9 million acres is already a conservative request,” said Carleton Bowekaty, councilman for the Zuni Tribe. “Anything less is tantamount to destruction of sacred sites to which the identities of our Native people are affixed.”
“Members of the Utah delegation have demonstrated their lack of respect for Tribal leaders and Tribal concerns. They have supported an investigation of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition by the state legislature, ignored the sovereign authority of Coalition member governments, made false claims about the lack of support for a national monument while exaggerating opposition and creating conflict within Native communities and excluded the Coalition from input on the PLI that is in markup today. The PLI process has done anything but unite locals and does not offer the ‘grand compromise’ promised” said Davis Filfred, Utah-based Navajo Nation Council Delegate (representing Mexican Water, Aneth, Teec Nos Pos, Tółikan, Red Mesa).
The Coalition hopes that the Obama Administration will take todays’ action as a clear sign that the PLI process has failed, and move forward with crafting a Bears Ears National Monument that respects all Americans by protecting Bear Ears for future generations.
The PLI falls dramatically short of what the BEITC requested in our October 15, 2015 proposal to President Obama calling for the designation of 1.9 million acres as a Bears Ears National Monument, and as the 114th Congress sets its course to adjourn quickly, PLI is at its end.