Extreme environmental groups have trumpeted for months that a presidentially designated Bears Ears national monument would provide Native Americans an opportunity to co-manage the region with the federal government, forming an equal partnership in decision making and administration. It would be an attractive option and a good solution – if only it were true. Unfortunately, this popular claim is fabricated by special interest groups to gain approval and momentum for their cause: locking up nearly 2 million acres of southeastern Utah.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell published an order to improve inclusion of Native Americans in federal land management. But much to the dismay of tribes, it stopped short of directing co-management by blatantly stating, “This Order focuses on developing cooperative and collaborative opportunities with tribes and does not address co-management.” Why wouldn’t the order address co-management? Simple: It legally cannot. Co-management requires approval by Congress and can’t be authorized by a bureaucratic order.
So extreme environmental groups and other special interests cannot legitimately claim a co-management solution for the Bears Ears. What they are peddling are unacceptable empty promises to gain wrongful support from Native Americans across the West. Secretary Jewell’s order has helped expose this falsehood, and some monument advocates are taking note.
Thankfully, there is a way forward. Congressional legislation has already been used to provide co-management opportunities with tribal governments on a number of occasions. For example, the salmon harvest in the Pacific Northwest is co-managed by local tribes and the state of Washington – with each government agreeing every year on fishing seasons and hatchery production objectives in the Puget Sound and off the Washington coast. This is providing locally driven solutions while simultaneously respecting the cultural heritage of Northwestern tribes.
The people of San Juan County, local Native Americans, and the millions of acres of land within the proposed Bears Ears monument deserve this kind of solution. Management decisions should be made by those who care for and understand the needs of the area the most – not by bureaucrats and a president far removed from the land and the local people. A unilateral presidential designation and its accompanying empty promises is not the way forward; community-driven solutions founded in facts and reality are.