Skip to content

U.S. senators call for extension of Bears Ears comment deadline

Tick, tock! If you want to add your voice to the debate on continued national monument status for Bears Ears, the time to do it is now!

On April 26, President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review Bears Ears and 20 other national monuments dating back to 1996 to see if their protected federal status should remain or not.

The 1906 Antiquities Act gives presidents the power to designate monument status to special wilderness areas on land and at sea. Nature enthusiast Teddy Roosevelt was president when the Antiquities Act was passed.

The monument status protects wilderness areas from development, like oil, gas and mineral mining.

Bears Ears, covering more than a million acres of land in southeastern Utah, is the most recent area to receive national monument status.

The region earned its name from twin towering rock structures that peer out above the horizon in every direction. They look down upon a spectacular landscape that’s preserved numerous ancient sacred sites, petroglyphs and rock art in areas only accessible by foot or horseback.

According to a statement by Carleton Bowekaty, Zuni, chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, tribes including the Hopi, Navajo, Unitah and Ouray Ute, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni have ancestral roots in the area.

The coalition is an advocacy organization fighting for the continued Bears Ears monument designation.

Just before leaving office last December, President Barack Obama used his presidential power to make Bears Ears a national monument.

He did so after previous Interior Secretary Sally Jewell met with local citizens and tribal representatives and held a public hearing in Utah, according to a statement from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office.
The statement adds that efforts to designate the region as a national monument began as early as 1936.

“It was only after heavy consultation from tribal nations that the Obama administration moved on the designation,” stated Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in a press release.

Bears Ears is on the top of Trump’s list that could take away the designated status that tribes fought so hard for.

The clock on getting comments began on May 12 and stops on May 26.

It’s the shortest window of time for making comment compared to the other monuments under review, which have until July 10 – a 60-day period.

“It’s almost as if they don’t want tribal members to comment,” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a phone call with the Times last week.

Heinrich, who said he backpacks into the Bears Ears wilderness area whenever possible, was so outraged by the fast turnaround for comments that he wrote Zinke right away.

“I ask that you extend the public comment period to 60 days, matching the comments period for their other monuments under review,” Heinrich stated in his letter to Zinke.

In an email to the Times last week, Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he made the same request to Zinke.

“I hope that Secretary Zinke will chart a different course, meet with the tribal leaders, and give tribes and other stakeholders a full 60 days to express their position on the future of the Bears Ears designation,” Udall said.

“Many people in Indian country don’t have access to fixed broadband Internet,” Heinrich said.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of New Mexicans and 78 percent of residents of Utah don’t have access to fixed broadband Internet.

Hearing about the short comment period New Mexico state Rep. Derrick Lente, D-District 65, noted, “Only the chosen few will have access. Those of our tribal members who live in isolated areas on the Navajo Nation are absolutely silenced.”

Heinrich also criticized Zinke for not holding a public meeting during his recent visit to Utah.

According to reports, Zinke met with tribal leaders for an hour or two.