Internal Documents Refute GOP Narrative on Interior Department Consultation on Bears Ears National Monument
Washington, D.C. – A new memo detailing internal documents produced by the Department of the Interior in response to a request by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform shows a years-long record of extensive contact between agency officials and a wide array of federal, state, and local stakeholders leading up to the designation of Bears Ears National Monument—directly contradicting the Republican narrative that Bears Ears and other federal monuments designated pursuant to the Antiquities Act were established without adequate consultation or local support.
These new documents shed light on the Obama administration’s extraordinary efforts to collaborate with stakeholders in the years before the Bears Ears designation, and they offer Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—who appears to have postponed a planned visit to Utah to discuss Bears Ears—a window into the careful, multi-party consultation that preceded the designation.
For example, a Timeline of Events provided by the Department demonstrates interactions between former Secretary Sally Jewell and Utah’s congressional delegation as early as 2013. The documents also include a proposed map for conservation areas and land management options shared between local activists, lawmakers, and agency officials.
In addition, the documents include email correspondence showing that Interior Department officials were in regular contact with the office of Governor Gary Herbert and other state officials, and that the Governor’s staff offered unsolicited praise for the accessibility and professionalism of Department officials. Documents also show that the offices of Senator Mike Lee, Senator Orrin Hatch, Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz—all Republicans of Utah—communicated with Department officials often during negotiations on the future of Bears Ears.
Bears Ears has become a flash point in the growing GOP effort to weaken the Antiquities Act and roll back public lands protections across the country.
Bishop and Chaffetz sought for years to establish management guidelines for Bears Ears though a legislative initiative known as the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), and the Department provided technical assistance for this effort. However, the PLI lost support in 2015 when tribal leaders concluded that Republican lawmakers stopped taking their concerns seriously. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—which includes the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe—began working with Department officials to establish Bears Ears National Monument only after a lengthy but unsuccessful attempt to collaborate with Bishop and Chaffetz through the PLI.
“If anyone wants to paint Bears Ears National Monument as a surprise or the product of rushed or incomplete planning, they’ll have to explain hundreds of emails and dozens of pages of shared work product,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. “These documents are an exemplary record of public servants going above and beyond to find a workable solution to a complicated issue, and they show Democrats and Republicans working together more often than not. If a governor said half the nice things about me that Governor Herbert’s office said about the Interior Department during this process, I could retire a happy man. The future of Bears Ears should be based on this record of collaboration, not on some after-the-fact political narrative that serves a few narrow interests at everyone else’s expense.”
“Contrary to some claims, these documents indicate that the Department of the Interior consulted closely with the Utah delegation, its residents, tribes, and local stakeholders about the Bears Ears Monument,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “Taken together, these documents demonstrate a lengthy and productive working relationship between the Department and multiple stakeholders, they include frequent acknowledgment of the Department’s eagerness to accommodate third party needs, and they show that many local officials strongly supported a monument designation.”
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