BLM seeks public input for new management plans for reduced monuments

This May 8, 2017, file photo shows an aerial view of Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. | Photo by Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via Associated Press, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday it is seeking public input on land use plans incorporating the changes made to the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments by President Donald Trump in December.

Public input will go to the BLM’s Utah office in order to “improve access, facilitate multiple uses, and within the national monument, care for and manage objects of historic and scientific interest” related to what remains of the Utah’s once two largest national monuments” as laid out in Trump’s Dec. 4 executive orders.

In this file photo, President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments at the Utah State Capitol, Dec. 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Read more: Trump reduces 2 national monuments in Utah by nearly 2 million acres

While visiting Utah in early December, Trump signed executive orders that reduced the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ear national monuments. Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced from 1.9 million acres to just over 1 million acres, while Bears Ears was reduced from 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres. The reduced portions of the monuments were also split into smaller units.

Within the former boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, land use plans would be specifically tailored for the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits and Escalante units and federal lands contained within the original monument designation.

Land use plans for the Bears Ears National Monument would be made for the Shash Jaa and Indian Creek units. The BLM notice did not mention planning for other territory previously contained with the monument.

That land nonetheless remains under the supervision of the BLM, as it was prior to the original monument declaration in late 2016 by President Barack Obama.

“The new land use plans will provide clarity for the public on how they can enjoy and use public lands within the monument(s),” the BLM said Friday. “With state, local, tribal and public participation, the agency will develop alternatives for the land use plans.

“The BLM welcomes participation from the public, which the agency will utilize in the development of alternatives for the land use plans. The public is encouraged to identify issues, management questions or concerns that should be addressed in this process.”

This July 15, 2016, file photo shows the “Moonhouse” in McLoyd Canyon which is part of Bears Ears National Monument, near Blanding, Utah. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Environmental groups were not pleased with the BLM moving forward on plans to implement Trump’s orders which they, as well as some tribal leaders, have called illegal.

“It is absurd for (Interior) Secretary (Ryan) Zinke to double down on President Trump’s illegal proclamations by instructing the Bureau of Land Management to rush forward writing management plans for monuments that will inevitably be overturned by the courts,” said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The BLM would do better to focus its efforts in protecting the wonders and sites within national monuments rather than aiding in their dismantling, Groene said.

“Trump’s proclamations aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, and this effort is a waste of time and tax-payer money,” he said.

Phil Hanceford, conservation director for The Wilderness Society called the BLM’s “rush to act” on the executive orders “irresponsible.”

“No planning efforts should move forward until the legitimacy of these new proclamations and dismantling of protected areas are fully settled by the courts.” Hanceford said.

Multiple groups, as well as a tribal coalition that petitioned for the creation of Bears Ears, have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration over the reduction of the monuments.

Read more: U.S. seeks to combine lawsuits over cuts to national monuments

The two monuments are also the targets of two pieces of congressional legislation.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, would turn a part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into a new national park.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Read more: Stewart proposes creation of new national park

The other bill, from Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, would help cement the new boundaries of the units in the Bears Ears National Monument while also prohibiting mineral exaction within its original boundaries.

Read more: Utah Republicans lead effort to cement Bears Ears reduction; tribal leaders condemn action

How to offer input

The BLM will accept comments for at least 60 days or for 15 days after the last scheduled public scoping meeting, whichever is later. Future public scoping meetings will also provide an opportunity to speak with resource specialists and submit written comments in person.

The date(s) and location(s) of any scoping meetings will be announced at least 15 days in advance through local media and the BLM website.

Comments may be submitted by using any of the following methods:

For the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument plans

For the Bears Ears monument plans

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time.

While you can ask in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, the BLM cannot guarantee it will be able to do so. The BLM will not consider anonymous comments. All submissions from organizations and businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, will be available for public inspection in their entirety.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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