Dear President Obama,
The residents of San Juan County, which include Navajo and Ute tribes, strongly oppose the designation of a Bears Ears National Monument as proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal (BEIT) Coalition. Emotion aside, there are lawful, valid reasons why we oppose this monument. The proposal itself is severely deficient and requests actions by the President that are contrary to law.
The BEIT Coalition claims that they are “local by residence to the Four Corners Country.” However, the “Four Corners Country” is not an institutional entity that creates law and policies that governs land use – it’s simply a region. Members of the Coalition are not residents of San Juan County. They are not even residents of Utah. They do not have legal jurisdiction over the Bears Ears area, and by claiming they are “local” via Four Corners Country they are trying to move an already established goal post and define their OWN goal post of what it means to be “local”. That’s fine, they have the right to believe and express how they feel. However, that does not give them actual rights to the land; only political bodies can make policy decisions about this land. “Four Corners Country” is not a citizen, or even a member, of any of those actual functioning jurisdictional entities. The proposal itself disregards no less than 18 land use planning efforts. A nongovernment organization such as the Coalition should never have the power to trump sovereign State rights, nor duly elected officials, no matter how much money they have been given from outside special interest groups.
Local tribes realize that their own tribal leaders have been bought out by outside special interest groups. Recently, the Ute tribe from White Mesa – one community that will be directly affected by this monument – voted out three of their representatives who are members of the BEIT Coalition. The community was never made aware that a Bears Ears monument was even being discussed and subsequently, they never had the chance to voice their opposition until recently. Evidence of this is provided in the following video with a comment made by Suzette Morris, a Ute resident of White Mesa, to Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, former Ute Mountain Ute Chairwoman, at a tribal meeting in White Mesa, Utah on August 24. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa_TyQzLKiI.
Every member that spoke during the meeting echoed Suzette’s remarks as they voiced their own strong opposition to the monument. Not one member was in favor of the monument, and at the close of the meeting, the membership asked the council, “after hearing what each of us had to say today, are you still going to support this monument?” Ms. Lopez-Whiteskunk, Manuel Heart, and Malcolm Lehi each replied with, “Yes, we still support it.” All three still support the monument, but none retained their elected office.
In the proposal, the BEIT Coalition makes claims of “rampant looting” and “grave robbing” and states that “more than a dozen serious looting cases were reported between May 2014 and April 2015.” However, those claims were never cited, much less verified. In fact, those claims are in stark contrast with official reports from local law enforcement, the US DOI briefing on looting activities, and the BLM.
The most important point, albeit upsetting and downright disturbing, that I want to address is the dishonesty that the BEIT Coalition has shown since day one. They claim that the seeds of their proposal were planted and nourished by local Navajos, when in reality, it was in fact environmental groups that planted the seeds of this monument into the soil of these tribes. In 2014 a meeting of the Conservation Lands Foundation was held in San Francisco where board members discussed the progress of what was then known as the “Cedar Mesa campaign” (later it would be known as the Bears Ears proposal). Chairman Ed Norton was quoted in official minutes questioning if their group was “hitching our success to the Navajo and if so what would happen if we separate from them or disagree with them. Without the support of the Navajo Nation, the White House probably would not act; currently we are relying on the success of our Navajo partners,” Norton said. (www.conservationlands.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Fall-2014-meeting-minutes.pdf).
The BEIT Coalition does not have the local tribes’ best interest in mind. They proved that by ignoring the entire Aneth Chapter of the Navajo Nation by submitting the chapter’s 2010 resolution in support of the monument as part of their October 2015 official proposal, when in fact the chapter rescinded that resolution in August of 2015 and officially announced their opposition to the monument.
Many surveys have been generated regarding public opinion on the proposed monument. The one that the BEIT Coalition most often promotes claims “55% of Utahns support a Bears Ears National Monument.” This poll in particular was conducted by Mike Matz from Pew Charitable Trusts organization. It should be noted that Matz headed the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA-one of the major financial proponents for the monument) from 1993-2000. He used Public Opinion Strategies and the Benenson Strategy Group whose motto is “BSG is a strategic research consultancy that marries language expertise with innovative research to frame choices so that your brand is the only answer.” http://www.sltrib.com/news/4224034-155/poll-most-utahns-favor-a-bears. The poll included a phone survey of only 600 registered voters in Utah, yet not one San Juan County resident nor one Native American, was surveyed. Those two populations are the ones that will be most affected by this monument. t. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-andanalysis/analysis/2016/08/11/new-poll-utahans-support-protections-for-bears-ears-area. The following map depicts the amount of surveys that took place in each county.
These are just a few of the reasons that locals, myself included, are so against this proposed monument. Additional reasons are contained in this document which can be found on the San Juan County Commission webpage http://bit.ly/2h7Xoy0. If it was the right thing to do, there would be at least some support from local Navajos, Utes, Anglos, and Hispanics alike – but there is not. If you want this land to continue being protected, because it IS already protected by BLM, Forest Service, and the good stewards of San Juan, please work with local county residents and elected officials.
A National Monument should be an honor to an area, not a punishment – and it should not be done TO the residents, but rather WITH the residents. Whether Bears Ears becomes a national monument by Executive Order or Congressional decree, the U.S. Department of Interior, the Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the President of the United States himself needs to see that the Bears Ears National Monument proposal is nothing but a Trojan Horse that will undoubtedly destroy this area.
Sincerely, One of many concerned residents of San Juan County-Utah, Jami Bayles
cc: Brian Deese, Senior Energy Advisor Christy Goldfuss, CEQ Neil Kornze, BLM Director Andrew McConville, CEQ Michael Degnan, CEQ Stephenne Harding, CEQ Sally Hardin, CEQ Leslie Jones, USDA