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Tribal Coalition Proposes New Monument

An extraordinary coalition of Western tribal leaders is petitioning for a new conservation area in southeastern Utah.

The tribes say they’re uniquely qualified to manage the proposed Bears Ears National Monument to protect 1.9 million acres of forest, range and redrock country in San Juan County.

The 25 tribes and Pueblos behind the plan prize the land for its medicinal herbs, deep family ties and opportunities for healing. Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a member of the Ute Mountain Tribe’s governing council, describes the monument as a way to protect sacred lands from abuses like looting and rampant energy development.

“Our earth is crying for healing,” she said at a National Press Club news conference in Washington.

“Sometimes they say you don’t only have a responsibility, but sometimes events, sometimes opportunities, they choose you. The coalition here has been chosen -- not only by their people in response to the community, but we’ve been chosen by our ancestors.”

The tribes unveiled their plans shortly after meeting with Utahns in Congress, although Washington lawmakers wouldn’t have a role in managing the new monument. Instead, they include a few spots for federal officials on the 8-person oversight panel they’ve proposed.

The tribes say they weren’t invited to the table for Congressman Rob Bishop’s public lands initiative. So, now they’re asking the Obama administration to go around Congress and create the monument with the Antiquities Act. Eric Descheenie, co-chair of the new Intertribal Coalition and advisor to Navajo Nation leaders, told how the coalition presented the proposal to Bishop and Congressmen Jason Chaffetz just before Thursday’s press conference.

“We invite them to sit down with our coalition leadership to discuss how our proposal can be incorporated into the public lands initiative,” he said. “We’re essentially giving them a second chance to do what we feel is right, and to do what a lot of us think is right.”

Bishop and Chaffetz joined Utah’s GOP senators in a statement saying many Native Americans in Utah don’t support the coalition, but coalition members say most think it’s a good idea.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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