by Tim Peterson, Utah Wildlands Program Director
In the midst of heavy turbulence for Bears Ears National Monument, we have some good news to share. On March 13, the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) halted the construction of new ATV routes and parking areas inside the Indian Creek corridor of Bears Ears National Monument until they make a final decision on our January appeal.
Widely known as home to the world’s best crack climbing and the gateway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Indian Creek is right at home in the new national monument — full of stunning redrock scenery, a rare perennial desert stream, and grand Cottonwood galleries. Beyond the exquisite landscape, Indian Creek is home to numerous important Native American cultural sites, including rock art, dwellings and granaries, an ancient quarry site, and a historic Ute summer camp.
A national monument was designated here to protect these values and more, and when the BLM’s Monticello field office tried to slip new ATV routes and parking areas in just days before the designation, we and our partners at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and the Sierra Club cried foul.
The IBLA’s decision to grant our petition for a stay halts the new construction planned for this spring and will give the board time to review the merits of our appeal before any ground disturbance begins. In granting the stay, the IBLA agreed with our argument that the project is prohibited by the Bears Ears National Monument proclamation’s travel-planning provisions, which require that new roads or trails be constructed only for the purposes of public safety or the protection of monument objects.
The IBLA stated:
Because the ATV trails here are for recreational purposes, and not for public safety or protection of objects protected under the Proclamation, we conclude, at this preliminary stage of the proceedings, that the trails are inconsistent with the Proclamation.
So those of you visiting Indian Creek this spring to hike, bike, climb, or just view the scenery, cliff dwellings, and rock art, will be spared the sights and sounds of heavy equipment tearing up the desert to make room for more ATVs in an already congested area.
But Bears Ears is not yet safe for the future. Rumors are swirling around Utah and Washington, D.C. that President Trump will act soon to shrink or eliminate the new monument against the wishes of the five tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and the thousands of you who supported its designation. We’ll be calling on you in the coming days, weeks, and months to help defend Bears Ears from this short-sighted and politically motivated attack. But for now, do yourself a favor and head out to relish an unusually warm spring in Indian Creek.