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NATIONAL MONUMENTS Draft management plans promise 'flexibility' for Utah tracts

This came out yesterday in E&E News. Two of the first BLM Management Plans prepared under Secretarial Order 3355. Lawsuits are already underway.

The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service released draft management plans for slashed versions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The Trump administration released draft management plans today for the revised Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments that would allow some energy development and other activities but also seek to protect cultural resources, wildlife and viewsheds.

The draft plans, developed by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, were spurred by President Trump's removal last year of more than 2 million acres from the Utah tracts — the largest-ever reversal of federal monument protections.

Trump signed proclamations undoing protections for 85 percent of the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument and nearly half the 1.9 million acres in the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument (E&E News PM, Dec. 4, 2017).

Environmental groups, Native American tribes and companies have sued over the monument reductions, arguing the Antiquities Act of 1906 doesn't give the president authority to reduce the size of monuments created under prior administrations. The consolidated lawsuits over the monument reductions were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) and resource management plan (RMP) for Grand Staircase-Escalante analyzed four alternatives and selected a "preferred alternative" that "emphasizes resource uses and reduces constraints while ensuring the proper care and management of monument objects and maintaining compliance with existing laws and regulations designed to protect physical, biological, heritage, and visual resources," according to the executive summary.

Trump's order broke up the 1.9-million-acre monument designated by President Clinton in 1996 into three parts: the Grand Staircase Unit of about 210,000 acres, Kaiparowits Unit of 551,000 acres and Escalante Canyons Unit of 243,000 acres.

The draft EIS analyzes RMPs for the three new monument units, as well as the 861,974 acres removed from the original monument footprint and referred to as the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area.

The draft EIS and RMP for Grand Staircase-Escalante includes a 98-page mineral potential report for the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area.

That report notes that oil and gas drilling in the lands removed from the monument is unlikely "given the extreme high exploration risk, remoteness of the region, lack of pipelines and infrastructure, depressed prices, and other factors." The same goes for coal mining, uranium and copper.

The draft EIS and draft monument management plan for Bears Ears also lists a preferred alternative that "would allow for the continuation of multiple uses of public lands and would maintain similar recreation management levels while protecting Monument objects and values," the draft says.

"In general, this alternative provides more flexibility in the management of the BENM but would require additional review of proposals during implementation to ensure consistency and compliance with overall management requirements," it says.

The 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears monument, designated by President Obama in late 2016, was shrunk and divided by Trump into the Indian Creek Unit with 72,000 acres and the Shash Jaa Unit with about 130,000 acres.

The two draft EISs and the draft RMP for Grand Staircase-Escalante and the draft monument management plan for Bears Ears are set to be published in Friday's Federal Register, kicking off a 90-day public review and comment period running through Nov. 15.

BLM Utah State Director Ed Roberson, in separate statements, said the new management plans for Grand Staircase-Escalante represent a "unique opportunity to help shape the future" of the bureau's first national monument.

"Developing new management plans is an exciting challenge and a serious responsibility that is shared by everyone who cares about these lands," Roberson added.

As for new monument management plans at Bears Ears, he said BLM understands "that local communities and the public at large care deeply about the future" of the site.

But the proposed management plans — each thousands of pages long — have already sparked protests from some conservation groups that have seen them.

"We've said all along that the entire charade was an unprecedented gift to extractive interests seeking to drill and mine within the boundaries of these historical, cultural, and paleontological wonders," Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a statement. "Even a cursory examination confirms our greatest fears: these management plans read like a neon sign inviting drilling and mining companies into our national monuments."

Meanwhile, elected officials from the Utah Tribal Leaders Association — comprising the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, Skull Valley Band of Goshute, Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe — passed a resolution asking BLM and the Forest Service to halt the planning process at Bears Ears until the federal litigation is resolved.

The tribes are part of the litigation.

"This resolution shows how tribes in Utah stand in solidarity with each other in protecting our ancestral territories, particularly when it comes to public lands and the restoration of Bears Ears National Monument back to its original 1.35-million-acre size," association Chairman Davis Filfred said in a statement.

Mixed reactions

There are plenty of supporters of Trump's decision to reduce the size of both monuments, including the members of Utah's congressional delegation.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council praised the reductions, calling the existing sites the result of "egregious federal overreach."

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Utah Farm Bureau Federation last spring asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for permission to intervene in the lawsuits over the cut on behalf of the Trump administration (Greenwire, March 8).

Supporters of the national monument boundary revisions note that they are balanced to provide for the multiple use of the lands.

The preferred alternative plan for the two units at Bears Ears, for example, states that there could be new land-use designations for 64,000 acres in the Indian Creek Unit, and about 1,500 acres in the Shash Jaa unit.

But 61 percent of the lands within the planning area, the draft EIS for Bears Ears states, "would be designated as avoidance areas, which could limit or prevent new land use authorizations."

In the Grand Staircase-Escalante planning area, the preferred management alternative would allow "commercial timber harvesting for the purposes of promoting or sustaining forest health," and allocated 2.1 million acres "as available for livestock grazing," the draft EIS says.

But it would also designate 106,000 acres "as unavailable for livestock grazing" and limit off-highway vehicle "and mechanized travel to designated routes through the Planning Area."

It also would require that visual resources be given the highest class of management on nearly 670,000 acres in the revised Grand Staircase-Escalante boundaries, and in 207,000 acres in the Kanab-Escalante Planning Area — the land removed from the original monument footprint.

Still, Trump's proclamations revising the boundaries of both national monuments were controversial.

Public scoping for the proposed revisions to Bears Ears resulted in 165,000 comments, according to a scoping report accompanying the draft management plan for Bears Ears.

Reporter Kellie Lunney contributed.

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