Governor Gary Herbert Raises Stakes in Public Lands Discussion

Bears Ears Tribal Coalition Promotion courtesy Tim Peterson
Bears Ears Tribal Coalition Promotion courtesy Tim Peterson

Utah’s Republican Governor, Gary Herbert, while presiding at the winter meetings of the National Governor’s Association in the nation’s capitol, took the time to hand deliver a message to the White House, addressing the recent rumours that President Obama may use the Antiquities Act at least once more before the President’s term ends.

At issue is the long-simmering controversy involving the so-called “Bears Ears” area of the northeastern part of the state, an area addressed in the Utah congressional delegation’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI) -spearheaded by Republican congressman, Rob Bishop – an effort to define local control of Bureau of Land Management land in Utah.

The controversy stems from a coalition of local tribal interests which felt as though they had been insufficiently considered by Bishop’s proposals; the tribes have also gone to the White House to request that the President protect what they describe as sacred ancestral lands that happen to be in Utah.

Governor Herbert’s effort was documented in a three-paragraph letter to the President detailing a mutually-shared interest in “the protection and preservation of [the area’s] natural beauty for future generations, coupled with a growing economy as goals that we both share.”

The Governor’s letter also noted the “heated and antagonistic environment, which exists currently related to public lands,” and cited the opposition of the use of the Antiquities Act by “virtually every local, state and federal official, the state of Utah strongly opposes any unilateral monument designation within our state.”

What the message to the President failed to acknowledge, as did the rollout of the PLI by Congressman Bishop previously, is any interest stemming from First Nations peoples residing in an around reservations in Utah.

Representatives from the Tribal Coalition at the National Press Club in October, 2015 (photo courtesy of the Coalition)
Representatives from the Tribal Coalition at the National Press Club in October, 2015 (photo courtesy of the Coalition)

Leaders of First Nations tribes have called the PLI “the kind of raw, heavy-handed political overreaching rarely seen in America today.”

The coalition consists of a total of 19 tribes including the Hopi, Navajo, Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain, Ute, Uintah and Zuni Governments as well as support from the National Congress of American Indians. The tribes had also delivered a letter to the White House, detailing their request for the Bears Ears National Monument designation.

In a prepared statement released by his office, Herbert said, “History shows this sort of action [the use of the Antiquities Act of 1903] will only exacerbate an already tense situation and will further perpetuate the longstanding public lands conflict. Any unilateral action could set back progress, perhaps for decades.” The tribes contend that without that “unilateral action,” their ancestral lands could be ruined for longer than that.

Tribal video presentation below.



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