As the end of president Obama’s term nears, the question remains whether he will designate a 1.9 million-acre national monument in southeastern Utah. Conservation groups and five American Indian tribes officially support the monument, but a group of residents from the nearby town of Blanding has been organizing against the proposed Bears Ears monument since the summer.
Blanding resident Janet Wilcox is part of a loosely-organized group of San Juan county, Utah residents who are opposed to the Bears Ears monument proposal. “We don’t see that this designation is going to add anything positive to the existing federal control that’s already here,” she said.
Wilcox said there is so little private land in San Juan County that locals would not have the resources to sustain the amount of visitors a monument could bring. Eight percent of San Juan county land is privately owned, with the remainder owned by federal, state, and tribal governments. Wilcox said the eight percent does not allow for enough local economic development, and adds that a monument could conflict with school trust lands, water rights, and grazing rights.
According to Wilcox, about 2500 people are part of a private anti-monument Facebook group, and some county residents created a website supporting an alternative to the monument.
But on Friday, the U.S. House finished the legislative session before voting on the Public Lands Initiative. That was a bill intended to stop a monument designation by creating a less-restrictive national conservation area. So the question whether to designate the monument now lies with President Obama as he moves into his final days in office. And depending what he chooses, an incoming Trump administration could make the future of the monument even more questionable.
Click below to listen to Austin's full interview with Janet Wilcox.