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Jewell Wraps Up Utah Visit With Heated Listening Session in San Juan County

Judy Fahys
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says everyone agrees that southeastern Utah resources are worth conserving. The question is: How?

Hundreds of people descended on the tiny town of Bluff over the weekend to have a voice on public lands decisions being made in Washington.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell got an earful during her hours-long listening session Saturday here in southeastern Utah. But she thanked everyone who endured the summer heat and crowding at the Bluff community center.

A tribal coalition and conservationists want President Obama to declare a 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument to preserve the area’s stunning wildlands and archaeology.

“Just remember,” said Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Tribe business committee, “that when you leave here, what happens will determine the future of not just this state but all the tribes.”

Monument opponents want congressional action. That would mean overcoming gridlock to pass Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative before their lawmaking session ends in January.

Blanding resident Brooke Lyman explained that the public land around her hometown is more than a vacation spot.

“San Juan County is America to me.  And for the government to come in and make this monument and take away the freedoms that we enjoy here, it’s like taking America away from me.”

Jewell ended by saying everyone agrees the area needs protection.

“I think that is unanimous,” she said after hearing from dozens who had the opportunity to speak. “The question, I think, is how.”

Jewell and her fellow public lands managers said they’ll be considering all of the local input, but she did not reveal a final decision.

“There are many voices here that say we want to continue to use these lands in the ways that we have,’ she said. “And that is not mutually exclusive with protections.”

President Obama’s decision on the monument could come anytime before President Obama leaves office.

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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