Commentary: Opponents of Bears Ears Designation Appointed to Sit on Monument Advisory Committee

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It’s been a familiar story over the last few years. Time and again the Trump administration has selected longtime adversaries of certain governmental departments to run them. In 2011 then-Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed abolishing the Department of Energy. Six years later, President Trump selected him to direct it. Andrew Wheeler was a lobbyist for the oil and coal industries before taking on his current role as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He even lobbied for cuts to Bears Ears National Monument on behalf of uranium giant Energy Fuels just months before being appointed to the EPA.

Now the trend has made its way down to the 15-person group selected to sit on the Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee (BENMAC) by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, himself a recent lobbyist for fossil fuel and mining companies. Over 100 people representing a broad range of political beliefs and cultural backgrounds applied to fill 15 spots on BENMAC. But the final picks are all most entirely critics of the original monument designation and many applauded when Trump slashed 1 million acres from Bears Ears in 2017.

When Trump reduced the monument, he scaled back tribal involvement in the monument’s management with a redesigned BENMAC. Only two slots of the 15-person committee are reserved for Native Americans, although Bears Ears was originally designated at the request of five tribes with cultural ties to the area. (He also called for the creation of another committee that will be appointed by the five tribes to give input on the the Shash Jáa Unit, which makes up a portion of the reduced monument.)

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the appointees:

Bruce Adams – San Juan County commissioner for over a decade decade, Adams had been a consistent opponent of the designation of Bears Ears National Monument. He recently asked his fellow pro-monument commissioners to table all new resolutions related to Bears Ears and to hold a county-wide referendum in November to gauge residents’ support. (Below: President Trump signs Adams’ cowboy hat in 2017.)

Ryan Benally – Son of former San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally. Rebecca joined with Adams in opposing the monument and served as opening speaker for Trump before he reduced the monument in 2017. Ryan Benally (a.k.a. @american_navajo on Twitter) sits in one of two “tribal concerns” slots.

Alfred Ben – The other “tribal concerns” representative, Ben is a member of the group Descendants of K’aayelli and elected officer of the Aneth Chapter on the Navajo Nation.

Gordon Larsen – Larsen serves as Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s Director of Federal Affairs and has been selected to fill the “state government” spot on BENMAC. Herbert opposes the original monument designation.

Dustin Randall – Owner of Roam Industry, a mountain bike guide service in Monticello, sits in one of two “developed recreation” seats on BENMAC. He’s been critical of the monument, telling Hatch magazine in 2017, “The government hasn’t paid attention to this area for so long and now they come in and say this is what’s going happen to your home. People are pissed. It needs to be protected, but 1.3 million acres? That’s a chunk and monument is a heavy stick.”

Jared Berrett
– Owner of Wild Expeditions and Bluff Dwellings Resort. Berrett fills the other “developed recreation” seat. He has aggressively promoted recreation in Bears Ears National Monument, including placing billboards in Moab inviting people to continue driving south to Bears Ears. But after the monument was designated by President Obama in 2016, Berrett wrote on his company’s Facebook page, “The fact is, I do not believe a 1.35 million acre monument is a good solution to a complicated matter. A much smaller conservation district in my opinion would have been a better approach to protect the amazing cultural treasures and allow for local government and citizenry be involved in the management decisions. It is also no secret that I’m not a fan of large Federal Government.”

Zeb Dalton – Filling the “private landowners” slot, Dalton is a rancher who holds grazing permits with the US Forest Service in the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. Dalton took the Fifth at a December trial where he was investigated for detaining a pro-Bears Ears activist on a county road after her husband closed a cattle gate.

Gail JohnsonAccording to the Salt Lake Tribune, “[Johnson] holds a grazing allotment that was entirely within the original monument. Johnson and her husband, Sandy, are seeking to intervene in the lawsuits filed by tribal, science and conservation groups that hope to invalidate Trump’s move to reduce the monument.” Johnson fills the “livestock grazers” slot on BENMAC.

Jami Bayles – Prominent member of Stewards of San Juan, a local anti-monument group. Bayles fills one of two “public at large” seats.

Kelly Pehrson – Selected to fill the other “public at large” slot, Pehrson is the San Juan County Administrator. When Trump slashed Bears Ears in 2017, Pehrson offered a prayer at a public rally in Monticello, saying, “Father, we’re grateful for thy hand touching the president’s and having him make the right decision for our county.”

Miles Moretti – Filling the sole “conservation” slot on the BENMAC is CEO of the Salt Lake City-based Mule Deer Foundation.

Read more about the BENMAC in the Salt Lake Tribune.

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