What if the fighting over public lands in San Juan County stopped and people started talking about solutions to conserve the land? That was a proposition floated at a hearing of the U.S. House Federal Lands Subcommittee yesterday.
The speakers included:
- Suzette Morris, a community-group officer who’s also a member of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe who opposed Bears Ears.
- Shaun Chapoose, a Ute tribal leader and key member of the unprecedented inter-tribal coalition that pressed former President Barack Obama to create the Bears Ears National Monument 11 months ago. He opposed the bill.
Together, their testimony Tuesday before the subcommittee reflected the clash of opinions that’s dominated the discussion over San Juan County public lands, both locally and nationally. Even subcommittee members - from both parties - got into it too.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert acknowledged the tension in his testimony. Then he had the final word, saying congressional action was the best way to resolve the issue.
“These are lands owned not by Utahns only,” he testified. “Not by the Navajos only or other native tribes. These lands are owned by all Americans.”
Last month President Donald Trump scrapped the national monument his predecessor created just over a year ago, and the new president established two monuments that are drastically smaller — they cover less than one-sixth the acreage that Obama’s monument did. Herbert told the congressional panel it’s their job now to properly protect these shrunken monuments, which have been renamed Shash Jaa and Indian Creek.
“So the challenge for this body and the rest of your colleagues,” said Herbert, “is to find a legislative solution — getting input from all of the stakeholders — and then come up with legislation to resolve the issue.”
The next step is for the bill’s supporters to get it through Congress. But five lawsuits have already been filed to block Trump’s move and a whole lot of distrust has settled in.