Unprecedented outpouring of support for Bears Ears shown during official comment period

May 25, 2017

Hiker at Dewey Point in Bears Ears National Monument.

Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
More than 685,000 support Bears Ears National Monument during the short comment period.

Today, a coalition of conservation groups and others announced that a historic number of comments and petitions of support have been submitted to the Department of the Interior in support of Bears Ears National Monument.  Despite the entirely inadequate 15-day period ending on May 26th provided for comments, more than 685,000 comments in support of Bears Ears National Monument have been collected.

Based on feedback from dozens of organizations including outdoor recreation businesses, conservation groups, historic preservation, faith communities and sportsmen, more than 685,000 comments have been collected.  These efforts reflect all those who have stood in solidarity to support the efforts and leadership of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and the five sovereign tribal nations involved who led the way to protect the sacred sites and ancestral lands of the Bears Ears region.

“We stand in solidarity with the five tribal nations with ancestral ties to these lands, which are hallowed ground to many native Americans. Bears Ears is the first national monument that was proposed and supported by a coalition of five sovereign tribal governments who want to end the looting, vandalism and grave-robbing that has plagued their sacred sites and ancestral lands for years.  While the protection of these lands was led by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, the protection of the land benefits all Americans,” said Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society.  “We urge Secretary Zinke to respect the tribes and work with the Bears Ears Commission to ensure these lands remain protected.”  (Background and resources on this issue.)

“The tremendous amount of public input in such a short amount of time is a powerful demonstration of support for indigenous rights and the places we all hold dear,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “Secretary Zinke would be wise to join in support of Tribal Nations and preserve Bears Ears.”

"The people have spoken - more than half a million strong - and 99 percent expect these magnificent lands to be held in the public trust for future generations,” said Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s a mandate to preserve monument protections for Bears Ears and all it means to Americans past, present and future. It’s a resounding call, also, for all of us to respect and collaborate with the Inter-Tribal Coalition.”

“NPCA is adamantly opposed to any attempts to rescind or alter the size of any one of our country’s national monuments, including the iconic Bears Ears,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. “Bears Ears is a region vulnerable to development and looting of invaluable cultural resources, it is deserving of national monument designation, just as the Grand Canyon and Muir Woods were. To call into question whether our shared national heritage is worth protecting will have lasting repercussions on the preservation of our public lands for generations to come. We stand with the Inter-tribal coalition in our commitment to help heal these ancestral lands, while leaving a legacy for all Americans. NPCA heard loud and clear from our members and supporters that they want Bears Ears to remain intact as it was originally intended, for all of Americans.”

“This extraordinarily brief and questionable review flies in the face of the years of work from Tribal nations and their local constituents to develop the Bears Ears National Monument proposal,” stated Ryan Bidwell, Senior Director of Conservation with the Conservation Lands Foundation. “Bears Ears is the home of the first Americans, and it is viewed as a sacred homeland by the many tribes and pueblos of the Southwest which came together in an unprecedented effort to preserve it. The current monument already reflects a compromise from the original proposal, reached after years of public involvement and discussion.  It is no surprise that an overwhelming number of Americans have taken action to stand with the Tribes to ensure that Bears Ears National Monument remains protected in its entirety.”

“Massive numbers of people all across this country have sent a message to President Trump and Secretary Zinke: Hands off Bears Ears National Monument!  This majestic landscape is a classic example of the priceless historic, cultural and natural wonders that are protected as national monuments.  Bears Ears honors five tribes who came together to seek protections from oil and gas drilling and mining for the 100,000 archaeological and cultural sites on their ancestral lands.  Secretary Zinke should respect those tribal voices and people across America who want Bears Ears and all of our national parks and monuments preserved for future generations.  Any attempt to abolish or diminish a national monument will heighten the public backlash already produced by Interior’s ‘review’ of them,” said Gene Karpinski, President, League of Conservation Voters.

“Trump and Zinke need to listen to the American people for once instead of corporate polluters. The people have made it crystal clear that they stand with Bears Ears and in solidarity with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition,” said Kieran Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity’s executive director. “They will not stand by while Trump and anti-public lands zealots plunder and pillage the country’s most stunning landscapes and cultural treasures for profits.”

 “Today, hundreds of people of faith sent comments to Secretary Zinke lifting up the moral imperative to respect tribal leadership. We must be sensitive to the historical trauma of government and church-sponsored attempts to eradicate the spiritual, natural, and cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples, and strive to never again inflict such pain. People of faith saw the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument was one important step toward healing, and we want Secretary Zinke to uphold it,” said Shantha Ready Alonso, Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries.

The announcement comes in the wake of the president’s executive order to review national monuments created since 1996.   Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke opened a 60-day comment period on all national monuments, but inexplicably limited comments on Bears Ears to only 15 days.  The Interior Department denied a request from Senator Martin Heinrich to extend the public comment period to 60 days and hold a public meeting as part of the so-called “review” of Bears Ears

The total number of comments reflects submissions of supportive comments from members and supporters of dozens of organizations representing a broad array of interests.  These comments have been uploaded to the regulations.gov comment docket DOI-2017-0002.  Due to the way that regulations.gov tracks comments, the site counts a batch of comments as a single comment, regardless of whether it included 10,000 or more individual comments or signatures.

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.    

Contact:

Michael Reinemer, Deputy Director – Wildlands Communications: (202) 429-3949; michael_reinemer@tws.org