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Bears Ears-Lands Initiative Controversy Heads To Congress Next Week

Judy Fahys
Regina Lopez Whiteskunk, standing here in a meadow below the Bears Ears Buttes, is co-chair of a coalition of tribal members that opposes the Public Land Initiative and favors the creation of a new national mounument in southeastern Utah.

A congressional committee takes a look on Thursday at the Utah Public Lands Initiative, the proposal billed as an alternative to a Bears Ears National Monument.

The House Natural Resources Committee will hear for the first time about legislation that embodies concepts Utah Congressman Rob Bishop has been working on for years. It would designate areas of federal land for energy, grazing, mining, recreation and conservation across 18 million acres in eastern Utah.

Regina Lopez Whiteskunk, co-chair of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, will testify at the hearing. She’ll explain why her group opposes Bishop’s approach and, instead, advocates a 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument that would be co-managed by Native Americans.

“That’s the voice that always gets misunderstood, diluted and sometimes even not spoke of,” she says. “ I’ll continue to speak for all those I feel I need to carry the voice for” including tribal ancestors, Native Americans today and future generations.

Bishop’s bill came out this summer, just as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell arrived in southeastern Utah to hear from locals and to see for herself what’s on the line. His legislation contains many contested provisions, and critics doubt it will pass Congress before the current session ends.

Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is headed to Washington soon to try to talk the Obama administration out of creating a national monument.

“I think there’s better ways to approach this,” he said at the KUED-Channel 7 Monthly News on Wednesday. “And certainly which will present us with an opportunity to ameliorate the confrontational aspects of this taking place on public lands in not only Utah but other states.”

Herbert has hinted he’s crafting yet another proposal for protecting the archaeologically rich lands around the Bears Ears buttes.  But he hasn’t described his plan and how it might affect the various interest groups.

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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