Bears Ears Region and the Public Lands Initiative: Time for a National Monument

Jul 8, 2016

Native American petroglyphs carved into stone in the Bears Ears region of Utah. 

BLM, Tim D. Peterson
After four years of effort, Chairman Bishop’s “Public Lands Initiative” has made no progress in Congress, and legislation has yet to be introduced. (See timeline below.)

It is time for the President to protect the Bears Ears National Monument. That proposal will be focus of a July 16 public meeting [LINK to DOI announcement] in Bluff, Utah.

On Thursday July 7, Utah’s Rep. Chaffetz introduced an amendment to the FY 2017 Department of Interior appropriations act in Congress that eliminates all funding for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management law enforcement on federal land.  At a time when documented cases of grave robbing, vandalism and looting are on the rise in the Bears Ears region, destroying irreplaceable cultural resources and desecrating the remains of Native Americans, this amendment would prohibit the federal agencies responsible for protecting these very sites from doing their jobs and guarding against future destruction and investigating and prosecuting these offenses.  The amendment makes the situation worse by eliminating the federal government’s remaining ability to police and protect the priceless cultural resources on federal lands or ensure public safety.

Chances for Public Lands Initiative: Slim to None

The chances of PLI becoming law during the 114th Congress are slim to none, especially with so little time remaining:

●      In the 114th Congress, at least 5,534 bills have been introduced to the House. Of those, about 10%, passed the House. Just 2% of House bills have become law.

●      Representative Bishop has not been much more successful. Of the 71 bills he has sponsored since taking office in 2003, only four became law.

With threats from looting, vandalism, and development increasing every day, it is time to recognize that President Obama must act to create the Bears Ears National Monument.

Timeline:  Years of Empty Promises

Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz have missed a number of self-imposed deadlines for the PLI bill. A timeline of those circumstances is outlined below.


Early hopes for a quick compromise draw out into protracted discussions and delays, while promises to produce draft legislation by winter go unfulfilled.


Production of a draft continues to be delayed, while Bishop creates and then ignores deadlines for the end of summer and January of 2015.


Bishop and the PLI miss more self-imposed deadlines in March and July, while dismissing the idea of Native American antiquities as “bull crap”. Failure to meet December deadline causes tribal groups to withdraw from the PLI process.


A draft that ignores tribal concerns finally appears in January. Promises of congressional action in March, May, and June pass without a bill.

The Time is Now for Bears Ears

Congress is pushing towards its summer recess. The PLI effort has run out of time. Now is the time for President Obama to take action where Utah’s elected officials have failed, listen to the many Utahans sick of political bickering, and create the Bears Ears National Monument.

For more information on the protecting Bears Ears region as a national monument, contact:

Matt Keller, National Monuments Campaign Director

The Wilderness Society