Promoting Unity in Biden Administration Policies: Alternatives to Monument Proclamations

President Biden said in his inauguration speech:

History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.

We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors.

We can treat each other with dignity and respect.

We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.

For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.

No progress, only exhausting outrage.

No nation, only a state of chaos.

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.

OF course, the more cynical among us will say “beautiful words but the President has no choice but to hire people he owes- political operatives- to carry out his policies, and they have made no such pledge.” In fact, I’m not sure that those operatives have the skills or patience that even the humblest member of a humble forest collaborative might have.

Still, folks are always talking about “holding people accountable” and I don’t see anyone else attempting to hold the Biden Admin accountable, except possibly R’s- but it’s hard for me to see any truths through the murk of partisan mud-slinging. So I think I’ll rate Biden Admin efforts on a 10 point scale, where 10 is unifying and 0 is pointedly not “lowering the temperature..” that being what I have previously called “a sharp stick in the eye.”

I would give the Bears Ears decision a zero. Here’s what I would have done instead.

First of all I’d make an announcement.

This back and forth over Monuments has gone on too long. We need to establish a solution that takes into account the views of all parties and that all parties can live with over the long-term, that will stand the test of time. These decisions should not be made by strokes of the pen in DC nor by the federal courts, but by the people- including all the people who are affected. That’s the only way we can understand and incorporate social and environmental concerns as well as justice and equity, in an open and transparent way. My goal is to provide support for a long-term solution, considering all previous efforts, and building on the agreements that we already have. These lands are important to all of us, and deserve the best we can give them through formal and public deliberation on an array of ideas and approaches. I want the success of my Administration to be measured by the relationships we have improved, and the trust we have built, as well as the end-product of an agreement. I want to honor the role of peacemaking inside our country as we honor it in the international realm.

Process-wise, I’d try to take down the temperature and deal with on-the ground questions with a wide range of alternative and collaborative approaches:

* Sit down with political leaders in Utah, all Tribes, as well as other stakeholders, and design a collaborative process with the help of professional environmental conflict resolution folks. The FS does this for humble regulations, so why not a massive land use decision?

*As part of that, starting from a ground based process.. what do you want to protect the area from? Mining, oil and gas, OHV’s, vandalism?

*Have an opportunity for public comment on specific issues.

*Intentionally find people to serve that both “sides” respect as well as folks from both “sides”, including Tribes who hold different views. Have them analyze the current protections. Which ones are working well and which ones aren’t working? Where and why? Does the solution (say, to vandalism or illegal ATVs) require something that drawing lines on maps won’t provide? If so, what are mechanisms to make that happen?

* The BLM and the FS have a variety of other land designations of various protections. What are the advantages of a Monument over other designations? Is it marketing tourism or something more concrete?

* Have Tribes look at different options of “advisory committees” and “co-management” and design a process for being involved, what kind of decisions, what level, what kind of authority?

Overall, the point would be to take the issue from a partisan political football to an atmosphere of place-based joint problem-solving, which… we have a long history of doing. Colorado and Idaho Roadless were examples of such processes. They took the symbology of Roadless Protection and crunched through the details- specific concerns in specific places- with people who are affected. And at the end, even with partisan politics and litigation in various forms, did deals that everyone can live with.

For those interested, Stacy Young wrote an interesting article in the Canyon Country Zephyr on the legalities and some legal history.

I tend to think of the Antiquities Act as perhaps a red herring. The legal case seems to follow from the idea that “having a Monument is the Right Thing” and using this tool we can override other views. Pragmatically, though we all could save ourselves a lot of legal and communication work and vast amounts of NGO money (and spend it on law enforcement around Bears Ears instead?) by the Administration instead simply saying.. “we believe we can work through this together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. That is our passion and our promise.”

We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.

For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.

No progress, only exhausting outrage.

No nation, only a state of chaos.

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.

Those are powerful words, Mr. President and if you need help translating them into action (in our humble area of federal lands and forests), I and others are right here.

34 thoughts on “Promoting Unity in Biden Administration Policies: Alternatives to Monument Proclamations”

  1. I think you are flat out wrong Sharon. I have visited Bears Ears before the Obama declaration and after Trump gutted it unilaterally. If we were starting over from scratch I would tend to agree with your process, but we are not and the climate for true collaboration in the current situation is just not there. Just look at the partisan gridlock in congress on the budget as case in point. This latest Biden action on Bears Ears is simply a redressing of another one of Trump’s arbitrary and vindictive actions gutting environment protections put in place by previous administrations both democratic and republican.
    Yes congressional designation is better , but like wilderness recommendations made by USFS in NC decades ago and still stalled in Congress, it is like “waiting for Godot “
    Sometimes the perfect solution is the enemy of the good

    • Terry, I think it started with an “arbitrary” action, that is the designation of a monument AFTER the election. I am sure that (political strategists being 10x smarter than I am) this was intentional, because they knew that it was a sharp stick in the eye and that it wouldn’t sit well with those stuck. Which gave them fodder for many articles in coastal media and HCN about how bad Utah legislators are. Threats of destruction and drumming up outrage and $. I think it’s different than sage grouse, where the determination was “heck we can go further than we agreed as Hillary will win and they won’t be able to push back.”

      I’ve written about various aspects of it before.. you can plug Bears Ears into the search box.
      You said “gutting environment protections put in place by previous administrations both democratic and republican.” Well see I think that that’s one of my points.. at the risk of channeling Jon, the BLM and the FS both have plans for the area. They are both protected by all the environmental laws and regs that both agencies have.

      All the Trump thing did was put back those previous protections. I really don’t like the idea that BLM and FS land isn’t “protected” unless it’s Monumentized. And I think that’s a particularly dangerous view with 30×30 and possibly differing interpretations. I think it kind of disses all the work that BLM and FS folks do every day. If you don’t want oil and gas leasing.. fine. If you don’t want additional OHV trails, fine. There’s plenty of room for negotiation.

      But what happened, according to my retiree sources, is that this was designed by political operatives and ENGOs.. and the Secretary visited for two days and later claimed that it was a collaborative effort. Getting to solutions collaboratively sometimes takes time and care, and that’s what we expect from a GS-12 Ranger.
      The piece I think is missing from all this is “what specific projects happened during that time period that wouldn’t have been OK according to the Monument designation?” Since we were tracking it here, I think we would have noticed quite a hubbub if there had been.. I remember perhaps some vegetation treatments?
      I think a permanent mutually agreed upon solution is likely to be better for the environment and for employees, e.g.

      • I don’t know how much time you’ve spent visiting the archeology sites on the ground in Cedar Mesa area. Prior to monument designation ongoing BLM management unfortunately was not adequate to stop continued overuse and degradation of many valuable arch sites. Paradoxically the national monument designation did not result in significant increases in funding for protection of the archeological resources and overuse if anything increased.
        Biden’s restoration of the original national monument boundaries fortunately does call for increases in funding and protections.
        I can appreciate the argument that presidential designations are not as good as congressional designations.
        The argument that agencies were doing well enough before special designation is eerily similar to arguments I heard in-house before NEPA and NFMA and the Wilderness Act.
        If you want to propose revamping the entire special designation process available to the president and the Secretaries by all means initiate the discussion. I believe the history goes back at least to Teddy Roosevelt if not before.
        How many other national monument designations from previous presidents would you like to see replaced?
        I’m all for collaborative decision making at the local , regional and national level. But you have to have all parties willing to engage in good faith. Do you think in the current political climate that is even remotely feasible for Bears Ears?

        • This is not new news..

          “Prior to monument designation ongoing BLM management unfortunately was not adequate to stop continued overuse and degradation of many valuable arch sites. Paradoxically the national monument designation did not result in significant increases in funding for protection of the archeological resources and overuse if anything increased.” To my mind, it’s not paradoxical… more often than not Monumentization leads to increased visitation without a greater budget.. leading to visitor-induced environmental degradation.

          If you never try to negotiate in good faith, then you will never find out if they could do it. In fact, it would be interesting to review what is meant by “good faith” negotiation; that way we could rate different parties on how well they do on that criterion.

  2. You pretty much hit the nail on the head there Sharon. Joe’s tendencies after a lifetime of politics might well be to find concensus and give a little on all sides, the people who work for him are young, wealthy, ideolouges. The backbone of the national democratic party if you will. Interns and second assistants on environmental affairs and climate etc etc.

    Before there were even Wilderness Study Areas in most of Bears Ears and Escalante I criss crossed a fair amount of it, and when I returned a couple years ago it was mostly unchanged. There’s not enough oil/gas/coal, or uranium to make it worth drilling or mining, mostly too dry for cows. Familiarizing the name induces tour companies to add it to their itineraries and monument status adds a sticker to the back of behemoth self propelled RVs.

    • Som, perhaps Monument designations should be required to include public comment and an EIS? then people would have to estimate the additional tourism and associated carbon emissions, water usage, etc.

    • Well stated.

      With regard to Bears’ Ears (it should have a possessive apostrophe and I don’t know why it doesn’t), if there were any evidence that that part of San Juan County might be better “protected” with a national monument designation, the designation might mean something beyond the merely performative.

      As a performative gesture, it may make Sierra Club graybeards and 20-something trustafarians happy, but I know of no evidence that any rock painting or ancestral site will be better protected now that the pendulum has swung back. You’d have to put up fences and gates. It’s just another soundbite in our national dialogue of the deaf.

  3. I agree with Sharon.

    The New York Times ran an article in whose blog section almost every commentator is celebrating the restoration of Bears Ears and Escalante.

    I think three blog comments are instructive.

    The first is instructive in an ironic way, because the writer approves of the redesignation:

    When I visited the monument in 1998, our group of four hikers encountered four or five other humans in four days. Escalante Monument received over 900,000 visitors in 2017. Bears Ears and Escalante will only gain in popularity.

    The second is instructive in a cautionary way.

    [The monument designation] made Bears Ears and Escalante busy tourist destinations. Now there is a four-lane highway near Bears Ears as the main access that has caused significant scenic and environmental degradation. Without the [designation], these areas would remain desolate, scenic and relatively unknown.

    The third is instructive in a pragmatic way.

    What’s to stop a future president from undoing this roll-back, making it a bouncing ball?

    • The third is the reason I would say, if I were Biden, “this stops now, we’re bringing everyone back to the table for a permanent solution.”

  4. Right on target, Sharon, I am so disgusted with both political factions right now, I see no clear path to anything but chaos.

    Collaboratives are good for fleshing out issues and finding common ground, but often times (nearly every time) they end up with something more of a “dream world” than reality (insert 4-FRI here). I don’t think the public as a whole, nor the forest service have the fortitude to actually do anything. Forests and homes will continue to burn, big fires will be big money and business (what’s the incentive to keep fires small?), politicians will point to each other and the American public will collect the damage and pay the costs….

    There are those folks who continue to fight the good fight, run uphill, swim against the currents, etc. that keep the spark and hope for a coming change. I continue to hope, but just like an old time IC told me “hope ain’t a very dependable plan”…..

  5. The United States’ longest war wasn’t in Afghanistan; it was against Indigenous Americans and ran from about 1785 to at least 1973. Leonard Peltier is a prisoner of that war.

    Despite the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862 that distributed unceded lands in the public domain to raise funds for colleges. The Morrill Land-Grant Acts are directly linked to the Native American Genocide so after the defeat of the 7th Cavalry at Greasy Grass in 1876 and the Great Sioux War Congress abrogated that treaty in 1877 then the Utes, Lakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne and others who migrated, lived and hunted all along the Front Range were driven into concentration camps.

    In 1980 attorney Mario Gonzalez filed the federal court case stopping payment of the Black Hills Claim award to the Oglala Lakota Nation. Gonzalez contends that the commission charged to make peace with tribes inserted language into the Fort Laramie Treaty signed in 1868 that Red Cloud had neither seen nor agreed to in negotiations.

    In 2019 during an episode of The Keepers, a podcast produced by the Kitchen Sisters and NPR, the lead Archivist at the National Archives told listeners lawyers are combing the records for treaties with tribal nations none of which have been honored by the United States.

    David Treuer was born of a Holocaust survivor and Ojibwe mother. He wrote in The Atlantic that he believes that most land held in America’s national parks should be remanded to Indigenous peoples but it’s my view that much of the land held in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service should also be part of that trust.

    Leonard Peltier is a Prisoner of War doing hard time at a federal corrections complex in Florida. In 2020 Peltier applied for a compassionate release because of the coronavirus outbreak but it was denied by the Trump Organization because Trump loathes American Indians.

    In a letter dated April 24 former New Mexico US Representative from the Third District Deb Haaland and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ, 3rd District) asked for a grant of clemency and the release of Peltier, a 75-year old tribal citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

    Hey, President Biden, release Leonard Peltier and settle the Black Hills Claim.

    Move the US Forest Service into the Department of the Interior, dissolve the Black Hills National Forest and make it a national monument co-managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribal nations signatory to the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. Mato Paha (Bear Butte), the associated national grasslands and the Sioux Ranger District of the Custer/Gallatin National Forest should be included in the move.

    Rewild it and rename it Paha Sapa National Monument eventually becoming part of the Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge connecting the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge in Montana along the Missouri River to Oacoma, South Dakota combined with corridors from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon in the north and south to the Pecos River through Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    • I’m OK with giving back all the federal lands to the Tribes for them to do with as they will. But moving the Forest Service to Interior.. heck no! A retiree once called their office in DC a “jar of scorpions.” And picking the BLM’s leader versus Randy Moore.. there’s no contest.

          • You just wrote the US should repatriate some public lands to some tribal nations but what’s missing is the political will.

            Your centrist platform is a curious place, Ms. Friedman.

              • Exactly.

                Today, land repatriation is the part of the roadmap to reconciliation and that Republican welfare ranchers are angry about rewilding means it’s the right thing to do.

                  • Land repatriation is part of the roadmap to rewilding parts of the Mountain West.

                    The Jemez Pueblo considers the nearly 140-square-mile Valles Caldera National Preserve a spiritual sanctuary and part of its traditional homeland. In 2019 lawyers presented oral histories as proof of its claim to the parcel but a federal district judge dismissed them under the so-called “hearsay rule” and an appeal is pending in the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

                    Indigenous history in the caldera goes back at least 11,000 years and obsidian quarried there for projectile points is found throughout the region. The ancestors of the Jemez Pueblo or Walatowa migrated into the area in the late 13th Century after Mesa Verde was laid bare.

                    Native Americans overwhelmingly turned out to vote for Joe Biden so now as Secretary of the Interior with oversight of the National Park Service and land repatriation is part of Deb Haaland’s wheelhouse.

  6. There are at least 129 national monuments in the US. Bears Ears has good company. The Following link at the bottom of this post has some good background on history of national monuments. Note that in many cases national monuments eventually led to more permanent Congressional designations. Prior to Trumps action on Bears Ears , the last national monument to be reduced in size or done away with was in 1962. I will concede that Obama probably designated more acreage in national monuments than any other president before him, and one can rightfully debate pros and cons of each of his designations.

    However I would not go so far as to say that national monument designation is a bad thing. And the Antiquities Act in part was to allow presidents the ability to provide temporary protections to historic and prehistoric sites until more permanent solutions could be agreed to in Congress. That path could still be followed with Bears Ears.

    For those who said there was no risk posed to Bears Ears I would refer you to a New York Times article that documented the input Trump received from certain interests prior to his decision to greatly reduce the size of the Bears Ears national monument.

    Biden’s current action is not creating a new national monument. It is simply restoring a pre-existing designation.

  7. Sharon – “Sit down with political leaders in Utah, all Tribes, as well as other stakeholders, and design a collaborative process with the help of professional environmental conflict resolution folks. The FS does this for humble regulations, so why not a massive land use decision?”

    Maybe because a massive land use decision is more real than planning regulations, and your “other stakeholders” are many and diverse and far away, and it looks to me like you would start off with a debate about the role of “Utah political leaders” in making a national decision. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up with results like wilderness legislation in Montana, which has been at an impasse for decades, or the locally developed Blackfoot-Clearwater agreement/legislation, which Senator Daines is trying to torpedo. In this kind of context, the Antiquities Act is serving its purpose of keeping options open while collaboration/legislation maybe moves forward. As for the state roadless rules, those were negotiated after the national roadless rule was in place to maintain the status quo, and negotiating Bears Ears status after monument designation would line up with that approach.

    • Well, that’s interesting about Senator Tester’s Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act. Montana mountain bikers oppose it (okay, not literally every mountain biker, but a critical mass) because it would eliminate mountain biking in a good chunk of land thanks to the Forest Service’s stubborn unwillingness to reconsider its decades-old bicycle ban in any Wilderness area. (Actually, I take that back: under President Trump, it said it would, but as soon as President Biden took office, it went back to saying it wouldn’t, which suggests that the ban is political and that environmental considerations, if there are any at all, are only tangential.) The Sustainable Trails Coalition, a mountain biking advocacy group, posted about the resulting standoff today. Here’s a link:

      From my perspective, Senator Tester is as hostile to mountain biking as any other member of the Senate, and that’s saying something when you consider other western Senate Democrats like Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. No wonder he is getting blowback. Probably Senator Daines has heard many complaints from mountain bikers about this legislation and he’s responding to them by blocking it. Thank you, Senator Daines.

      If Senator Tester wants to get bills passed, he might try negotiating with the state’s politically savvy community of backcountry cyclists rather than stiff-arming them.

  8. Senator Daines’ interest is mostly in unwilding “unofficial” wilderness areas so they can’t become wilderness (for reasons far beyond mountain biking), which he is demanding in this case. But I think you’ve helped make my point about the greater likelihood of a standoff than a collaborative solution. (Maybe this is a reason why the Forest Service should close the area to mountain bikes before proposing legislation 🙂

  9. Jon, you do realize, I hope, that you’re suggesting that the Forest Service tilt the regulatory playing field in order to influence legislation? And then propose that legislation?

    Both actions would be unconstitutional, because they would violate the separation of powers.

    • The Forest Service is free to suggest and support legislation (such as recommended wilderness), though technically only Congress can “propose” it. My main point was that the FS has the authority to close areas, and I don’t think legitimate use of that authority based on consideration of the relevant factors would raise any constitutional questions – even if it did facilitate legislation.

      • My main point was that the FS has the authority to close areas, and I don’t think legitimate use of that authority based on consideration of the relevant factors would raise any constitutional questions – even if it did facilitate legislation.

        I respectfully disagree. It would raise a constitutional question for the Forest Service to disadvantage taxpayers who happen to be mountain bikers not out of any management consideration but only to nudge Congress toward making an area a Wilderness because some Forest Service employees want an area to be a Wilderness.

        It would also be odious. The administrative state already has more power than the constitutional drafters envisioned. Giving itself the further power to deliberately and intentionally shape what Congress does by means of an agency’s own policy decisions cannot be countenanced, otherwise we will be even less governed by the Constitution’s exclusively designated lawmakers (i.e., Congress) than we are, which is already a lamentable state of affairs.

        • Regardless of the what the Forest Service does, Congress would still decide the wilderness question, as required by the Wilderness Act.

          • That’s correct but beside the point.

            Only Congress can amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. That act imposes per-country quotas on annual immigration. Suppose the border patrol’s bureaucracy, or executive-branch immigration judges, decide to treat people from Country A who show up at the border with an asylum claim more harshly than people from Country B who show up at the same border with the same claim, in order to create a humanitarian crisis involving Country A nationals, in an effort to nudge Congress to raise the quota on legal Country A immigration. You would think that’s fine? I don’t.

        • Your point about the Forest Service influencing Congress is well taken. This has been at the root of the Region One RWA debacle since it’s inception on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest around 2003. Forest officials first admitted they had no policy to remove recreation uses. A few years later the policy was revealed as a “white paper”. Forest officials finally admitted publically in a New York Times article that they had an agenda to remove mountain bikers from certain areas they had Wilderness designs on, in order to not give congress pause when passing legislation.. The whole process has been illegal. The reason none of this hasn’t been resolved (litigated) is because of cost; mountain bikers aren’t organized enough, knowledgeable enough or rich enough to sue the agency.

          • Thanks for that disturbing story. Based on your account, I hope the Forest Service has since changed its mind, because that would be embarrassingly clumsy and ham-handed. I suspect that a court would nullify such an action as violating the constitutionally mandated separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

            • The new Forest Planning Rule of 2012 codified a version of the White Paper policy. Wording created a gray area for managers to allow or not allow non-conforming uses, but the emphasis is to not allow non-conforming uses in RWAs. So the illegal R-1 policy now lives in regulatory language since 2012. This is the primary reason mountain bikers keep losing trail mileage in Region One and now across the whole U.S. The Planning Rule gives a green light for land managers to entirely disregard existing permitted recreation uses when creating Forest Plans and Recommended Wilderness. It’s the reason cyclists will lose over 100 miles of trail access near Seeley Lake and Ovando if the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act fails to pass before Lolo National Forest creates a new Forest Plan.

              • I’m sorry to hear this. The trail wars continue.

                You’d think that Wilderness, Recommended Wilderness, and Wilderness Study Areas would be managed for only one goal: to protect and preserve the environment. Instead, commercial pack trains damage Wildernesses while the Forest Service does little or nothing, judging by the messed-up Wilderness areas I’ve seen around the west. It spends its time banning 25-pound bicycles that have a lower impact on flora and fauna than backpacking does.

                Congress needs to update the Wilderness Act of 1964. It hasn’t kept up with scientific advantages or agency abuses. It’s the equivalent of a 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle with a Powerglide two-speed transmission and vent windows.

                But the Democrats are owned by the Wilderness industry, with all of its hypocrises and conflicts of interest. So nothing will happen.


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