By: Michael Lehr
5th May, 2016
The fight over federal control of western land is on display in a large, remote area of southeastern Utah. On one side is a coalition of Native American tribes, supported by conservation groups, urging the designation of a new national monument to protect 1.9 million acres of land including the culturally important area of Bears Ears. On the other side are conservative federal, state, and county lawmakers seeking to advance a recently unveiled public lands bill titled the Public Lands Intuitive (“PLI”). The proposed bill would protect 1.2 million acres of the Bears Ears area while also opening land for energy development and a wilderness area. At one time, both sides where hopeful that the PLI could serve as a grand compromise, but the proposed bill, which involved years of meetings and planning, was not what environmental and tribal groups envisioned. Instead, these groups now call the bill a “public land giveaway.” The causes of the disagreement between the two sides are historical and structural, and after years of optimism, it seems unlikely that an agreement will be reached that will satisfy both sides. At this point, the probable outcome seems to be President Obama designating a new national monument in the Bears Ears area. If the Bears Ears area is indeed designated as a national monument, the designation is sure to ignite a firestorm of controversy in a state that has spent the last twenty years fighting against federal control of public lands.