Lance Porter, District Manager 365 North Main
P.O. Box 7
Monticello, UT 84535

April 11, 2018

Re: Bears Ears National Monument Management Plan Scoping Comments

Dear Mr. Porter:

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks submits the following scoping comments regarding the development of Monument Management Plans for the Bears Ears National Monument Indian Creek and Shash Jáa Units and Associated Environmental Impact Statement. These comments are in addition to joint comments NPCA has signed with The Wilderness Society (TWS) and others and have been submitted by TWS. We value the entire connected landscape and the cultural, historic and scientific objects, as well as recreation opportunities within the entire monument, however, our greatest concerns and expertise are focused on park adjacent lands and potential impacts to national park resources and values. We submit these comments in addition to TWS et al. to address those park specific concerns. We appreciate your consideration of our comments and look forward to working with you to ensure our national parks and monuments, their connected cultural landscapes and surrounding public lands are protected and remain the special places that draw visitors from across the country and the world.

National Parks Conservation Association

The mission of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is to “protect and enhance America’s National Park System for present and future generations.” Founded in 1919, NPCA is the leading citizen voice for the national parks. We are a national non-profit with headquarters in Washington, DC, and 29 regional and field offices across the country, including our Southwest Regional office in Salt Lake City, Utah. NPCA represents over 1.3 million members and supporters who care about America’s shared natural and cultural heritage preserved by the National Park System.

Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition) is a non-profit organization composed entirely of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service (NPS). The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System (System). With over 1,500 members, the Coalition represent more than 35,000 years of experience managing and protecting America’s most precious and important natural and historic places.

Bears Ears National Monument Legal Status

A top priority for NPCA and the Coalition is protecting the resources within parks, but we aim to do so within the larger landscape in which they are embedded, and the air and water on which they depend, to enhance their ecological and cultural integrity. With that in mind, our organizations have been strong supporters of President Obama’s Proclamation 9558 creating the original Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016. This proclamation, under the president’s legal authority explicitly bestowed to him under the Antiquities Act, protects lands rich in cultural resources and spiritual significance to Native American communities, as well as scenic views and recreation opportunities in the iconic canyon country just steps from Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

On December 4, 2017, President Trump signed Proclamation 9681 significantly reducing the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and separating the landscape into two small units, Indian Creek and Shash Jáa. We maintain that Proclamation 9681 is an unlawful revocation of the existing Bears Ears National Monument and will be overturned in a court of law. The president only has the authority to create a national monument under the Antiquities Act and Congress alone can revoke or reduce a national monument.

As such, the illegal proclamation issued by President Trump is being challenged in court and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) rush to develop a Monument Management Plan based on the reduced boundaries of Bears Ears is premature and illegitimate. Moving forward with the planning processes at this time will likely waste time and resources of an already strapped agency, recognizing that the new proclamation is expected to be overturned by the courts.

NPCA’s and the Coalition’s submission of scoping comments in no way constitutes acceptance of Proclamation 9681 or management changes that may result from this process, and by participating, we are not waiving any rights to contest the underlying proclamation or processes flowing from that act. We assert that the BLM should abstain from planning efforts under the new proclamation for Bears Ears National Monument until the legitimacy of the proclamations are fully settled in federal court. Instead, we recommend the BLM spend time and resources ensuring the protection of the natural and cultural resources within the original monument, safeguarding it for current and future American generations.

NPCA’s and the Coalition’s Commitment to the Bears Ears Landscape

NPCA has a long-standing commitment to protect a significant portion of the original Bears Ears area of northern San Juan County, adjacent to Canyonlands National Park. Since 1988, we have publicly advocated for expanded protections of the natural and cultural resources around Canyonlands National Park through our Canyonlands Completion campaign. Our vision includes extending protections from the existing national park boundary to the natural erosional boundary of the Wingate cliffs–this better incorporates the whole basin, as well as adjacent cultural and natural resources, while removing some of the external threats to park resources.

NPCA’s Canyonlands Completion area closely aligns with the original Bears Ears National Monument boundary (Proclamation 9558) to the east and south of Canyonlands National Park. To the east of Canyonlands, the original Bears Ears National Monument included Lockhart Basin up to the rim of the Wingate cliffs, where threats from irresponsible off-road vehicle use and resource extraction within the viewshed of Canyonlands National Park are longstanding concerns for the National Park Service (NPS) and NPCA. Potential resource development within Lockhart Basin as well as on the rim of the basin threatens not only the views from within the park, but dark night skies, natural sounds, air quality and water resources—all critical resources and values of our national park.

To the south of Canyonlands, NPCA’s proposal for Canyonlands Completion also includes extending protections to incorporate Beef Basin, with its substantial archeological and cultural sites, as well as areas near Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument and Indian Creek. Just as in NPCA’s proposal, these contiguous cultural sites were incorporated into the larger protected landscape of the original Bears Ears National Monument. However, as part of the monument reduction, Lockhart Basin and the land south of Canyonlands are now unprotected.

More recently, both NPCA and the Coalition have been staunch supporters of protection of the greater Bears Ear landscape and the 2016 Bears Ears National Monument proclamation. In addition to Canyonlands National Park, the original national monument boundaries secured protection for other national park units both inside and adjacent to the monument, including Natural Bridges National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Realistically, protection for   national parks can only be assured when their adjacent lands are well managed. Simply, the Bears Ears National Monument provided better security for the management of Southeastern Utah’s public lands, including its national parks.

Maintain Protections for the Original Monument Landscape

The elimination of original protections and separation of the previously contiguous national monument created by Proclamation 9558 undermines the value of the Bears Ears landscape as a whole. It is crucial that these historic sites, sacred tribal grounds and remarkable natural resources remain connected under the national monument designation, as proclaimed in December 2016. It is in keeping with the Antiquities Act that these objects must receive “proper care and management,” and in order to do so, the landscape and the resources it hosts must be considered in its entirety, with an appropriate all-encompassing management plan.

Therefore, any actions proposed within the original and valid boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monuments should only substantially advance the proper care and management of the objects of interest as set forth in Proclamation 9558 (Dec. 28, 2016). The BLM and Forest Service should put forth alternatives in its Bears Ears National Monument Management Plan that protect the important and sensitive resources of the original monument including cultural, natural/ecological, paleontological, geological resources as well as Tribal sacred lands. This will ensure that the monument management plan covers both the areas in the original proclamation as well as the reduced areas. In the interim, we urge BLM to protect the entire Bears Ears landscape from looting and destruction of cultural sites, irresponsible off-road vehicle use, energy and mineral extraction, hazardous levels of grazing, and other threats from inappropriate use and development.

Economic Benefits of National Parks and Monuments

National park and monument visitors are flocking to Utah in record numbers. According to the National Park Service, 14.4 million people visited Utah’s national parks in 2016. That number increased to 15.2 million people visiting in 2017. Those visitors are coming to experience not only Utah’s Mighty Five national parks, but the mosaic of spectacular public lands across our state, including Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges and Bears Ears National Monuments. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, in 2016, that visitation also translated into a contribution of $12.3 billion to Utah’s economy. As a result, it is imperative we recognize the importance of preserving the natural and cultural resources that are protected by our national parks and monuments, along with the celebrated dark night skies, intense quiet and the spectacular vistas that continue to draw more and more visitors. In order to maintain the robust economy of Utah’s public lands, we recommend the BLM protect the resources of the original Bears Ears National Monument and the nearby national park units including air and water quality, cultural resources, dark night skies, natural sounds, and viewsheds.

National Park and Monument Resources of Concern

Cultural Resources/Landscape and Traditional Knowledge

Creation of the original Bears Ears National Monument by President Obama was the result of longstanding advocacy by tribal communities and many others with the goal of protecting over 100,000 cultural sites and the area’s broad cultural landscape – sacred ground for millennia. The original proclamation illustrates a deep recognition of the significance of this landscape, its rich cultural history, and the deep knowledge and strong connections that many Native American tribes have with the area today. We urge the BLM to look beyond the current reduced monument boundaries when planning for the protection, interpretation, and stewardship of cultural resources and traditional cultural knowledge.

Consultation with Native American tribes and other cultural resource stakeholders throughout the public lands management planning process is necessary to identify traditional cultural properties, sacred landscapes, and other issues and concerns within the original monument boundaries. We  urge the BLM to complete a Cultural Resource Inventory and consult closely with Native American tribes to better inform monument management decisions within the original monument boundaries, not just within the Shash Jáa unit as described in Proclamation 9681. In addition, we urge the BLM to incorporate traditional cultural knowledge and tribal representatives in the interpretation of monument history, cultural sites and traditional uses.

Dark Night skies

The Colorado Plateau is one of the last sanctuaries of darkness amidst a rising surge of light pollution. Many visitors go to national parks and monuments to experience the dark, starry skies, which brings economic benefit to the parks and monuments and surrounding communities. In addition to the visitor experience, wildlife species depend on natural patterns of light and dark for navigation, to cue behaviors, or hide from predators.

NPS has recognized dark night skies as an important resource that plays a critical role in natural resource processes and the evolution of species, as well as contributing to the national park visitor experience (NPS Management Policies 2006, § 4.10). Canyonlands National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument are both designated International Dark Sky Parks, a designation reserved for parks with “exceptional” and well-preserved night sky resources. People visit these places just to experience their dark night skies, to learn about them through ranger-led interpretive talks and view them through high powered telescopes.

The BLM is also required to manage public lands in part for “scenic values,” which include night skies.  43 U.S.C. § 1702(c). Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the BLM must account for the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of “past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions” on night skies.  40 C.F.R. §§ 1502.16, 1508.7, 1508.8. In addition to reducing impacts on night skies and protecting the purity of dark night skies within the original monument  boundaries, we urge the BLM to celebrate and interpret this dwindling resource for monument visitors.

Natural Sounds

The original monument proclamation mentions the “rare and arresting quality of deafening silence” (Proclamation 9558, p. 4) of the Bears Ears landscape. Like the incredibly dark night skies, the natural quiet of this remote landscape is worthy of recognition and protection by the BLM in their monument management plan and within the landscape removed from monument protection adjacent to national park units. The National Park Service (NPS) manages park units to protect natural, cultural, and historic sounds they consider fundamental to the purposes and values for  which the parks were established. The NPS Natural Sounds Program Mission is “…to protect, maintain, or restore acoustical environments throughout the National Park System.” Noise impacts the acoustical environment by obscuring the listening environment for both visitors and wildlife. An appropriate acoustical environment is also an important element in how we experience the cultural and historic resources in the national parks. Places of deep quiet are most vulnerable to noise. Therefore, wildlife in remote wilderness areas and park visitors who journey to these quiet places are likely to be especially sensitive to noise. In addition, soundscapes are part of the “human environment” subject to the requirements of NEPA. 42 U.S.C. § 4331 (C); see also Wyoming v. United States DOI, 674 F.3d 1220, 1236 (10th Cir. 2012) (upholding NEPA analysis in part because NPS properly considered “soundscapes”).

Viewshed

As you know, the Colorado Plateau is a vast, wide, open landscape that affords incredible views, in some cases 360-degree views of undeveloped land for 100 miles. Public land management boundaries are indistinguishable to most visitors. Part of the unique experience of visiting this remote area of Southeastern Utah is the opportunity to seemingly travel back through time to learn about ancient history and modern settlers to the area, as well as the expansive views and vistas throughout. Incompatible development within view of the national park units and the monument could significantly impact that experience. Therefore, BLM must ensure the national park’s and monuments’ visual resources will be protected from incompatible development within the original Bears Ears National Monument boundaries. This can include infrastructure such as drill pads and stock tanks, truck traffic, new roads, and more.

Air Quality

Canyonlands National Park has been designated as a Class I area under the Clean Air Act. Class I areas are places where the law requires the air quality to be at its most pristine, unaffected by human-made or human-caused pollutants. Clean air enhances the color and contrast of landscape features; allows visitors to see great distances; and safeguards ecosystem, visitor, and public health. Any allowance for mining or other energy development in the land removed from the original Bears Ears National Monument would release particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These haze-causing pollutants would obscure scenic vistas in the adjacent national park by impairing a viewer’s ability to see long distances, color and geologic formation. They also contribute to unhealthy National Ambient Air Quality Standard pollutants, ozone and particulate matter.

Visitors to national parks and wilderness areas consistently rate visibility and clear scenic vistas as one of the most important aspects of their experience.[1] In coordination with other agencies, we recommend that the BLM consider how to best manage the land included and excluded from the original Bears Ears National Monument to ensure clean air for both visitors and monument and park resources.

Water Resources

Water is a precious resource in the West. Certain activities including mining, oil and gas development, grazing and irresponsible off-road vehicle use can have significant impacts on its quality and quantity. Preserving and protecting key watersheds and water sources should, therefore, be a clear priority for monument managers. The BLM needs to accurately determine potential impacts to water quality or quantity from monument uses including grazing, off-road vehicle use, timber management, wildfire management, and more to develop an appropriate plan for water usage and protection.

Paleontological and Geological Resources

The Bears Ears landscape incorporates an extensive record of geologic history as well as the fossil record of ancient plant and animal life. The entire area offers a unique, world class opportunity for scientific study, preservation and education of this window back in time. We encourage the BLM to consult the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and other experts to ensure these internationally significant resources are protected from any new incompatible uses. We also encourage the BLM to incorporate appropriate public education and stewardship opportunities of these resources and the stories they tell about the landscape.

Vegetation and Wildlife Resources

It is important for BLM to protect wildlife corridors and habitat within the Bears Ears National Monument in order to maintain connectivity with the larger landscape and to create resiliency to a changing climate. Fragmentation of habitat and wildlife corridors from poorly planned development, the creation of new roads and irresponsible off-road vehicle use poses a threat to healthy wildlife communities and overall ecosystem functions. BLM should identify important wildlife corridors within the monument, analyze their ecological health, and ensure that appropriate protection and monitoring measures are incorporated into the final Monument Management Plan.

Monument Uses to Consider for Resource Protection

Travel Management/ORV use

For years, NPCA and the Coalition have advocated for NPS management action to prevent illegal off-road vehicle use and reduce environmental impacts through appropriate planning, visitor education, outreach, and enforcement. We have also consistently raised concerns with off-road vehicle use outside park boundaries that cross illegally into national parks, which can negatively impact wildlife, crush fragile desert soils and plant life, and increase wind and water erosion. Therefore, we continue to urge the BLM to consider appropriate levels of ORV use both within the Bears Ears boundaries and within the landscape removed from prior monument protection adjacent to national park units. We have significant concerns about increased pressure on our public land managers to expand ORV use, particularly adjacent to our national parks. With literally thousands of miles of designated ORV routes, we believe that the need for allowing for increased use within and adjacent to protected landscapes has not been demonstrated when balanced against the risks of resource damage to these fragile landscapes. Increased ORV use can also make looting easier when cash strapped federal agencies lack the resources to monitor and protect cultural resources.

Livestock Grazing

Poorly managed livestock grazing within and adjacent to protected landscapes can affect the health of key water sources and watersheds, vegetation communities, important wildlife habitat, and entire ecosystems. When addressing livestock grazing levels and administration within the monument, we urge the BLM to base management decisions on scientific data, robust monitoring of forage availability, rangeland and ecosystem health and to take an adaptive approach to ensure the resiliency of our public lands in the face of a changing climate. Building in adaptive management is important for testing management tools to ensure they help managers meet their conservation goals without unintended consequences, especially in a fragile desert ecosystem subject to drought and climate warming with the potential to alter the forage and water regimes.

We emphasize the critical importance of protecting threatened and endangered species, native cold desert plant and animal communities, streams and riparian areas, biological soil crusts and archaeological and historic resources. We are particularly concerned about the concentration of livestock in fragile perennial streams, wetlands and riparian areas.

Mineral and Energy Development

Regarding the original monument boundaries prior to December 4, 2017 and the landscape that was removed under Proclamation 9681, NPCA and the Coalition have significant concerns that a reversion to the BLM’s 2008 Monticello Resource Management Plan (RMP) may take away requirements for mineral and energy development that should remain in place for the protection of resources until the legal boundaries are decided in court. Like many concerned stakeholders, our experience is that once a landscape and the resources identified for protection are affected by such incompatible uses, they may never be restored.

Coordination with NPS

Given their proximity to and connection with National Park System sites, it is our hope that the BLM managers will utilize the expertise of NPS officials to help shape the management of this adjacent landscape. Such coordination will likely help prevent impacts from incompatible uses, while also sharing NPS expertise in visitor management and interpretation. The NPS has strong authority to protect its resources from harmful impacts on nearby lands. The significance of park resources, including scenic values, at our national parks and the responsibility of NPS to protect them was clearly articulated in the Organic Act of 1916:

… to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Further, because national parks are not islands of protection, and their scenery and fundamental resources are more often at risk from adverse impacts originating outside national park boundaries, the NPS Management Policies 2006 (§ 4.1.4) well outline the responsibility of NPS to engage with other agencies and decision-makers:

… the Service will seek the cooperation of others in minimizing the impacts of influences originating outside parks by controlling noise and artificial lighting, maintaining water quality and quantity, eliminating toxic substances, preserving scenic views, improving air quality, preserving wetlands, protecting threatened or endangered species, eliminating exotic species, managing the use of pesticides, protecting shoreline processes, managing fires, managing boundary influences, and using other means of preserving and protecting natural resources.

Conclusion

The National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks urge the administration to maintain protections of the original Bears Ears National Monument as designated in Proclamation 9558 until the legitimacy of the boundaries are fully settled in federal court. We ask the BLM to move forward with a Monument Management Plan that embraces the cultural, scientific and historic resources in a manner that protects neighboring national parks, preserves sacred cultural landscapes and our natural history while allowing the growing outdoor recreation industry to flourish.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments and those of our members and supporters.

Sincerely,

 

David Nimkin
Southwest Senior Regional Director
National Parks Conservation Association
307 W 200 S, Suite 5000
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
801-521-0785
Erika Pollard
Utah Senior Program Manager
National Parks Conservation Association
307 W 200 S, Suite 5000
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
801-521-0785
Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
201 I Street, NE #805
Washington, DC 20002


[1] https://www.congress.gov/106/plaws/publ530/PLAW-106publ530.pdf