May 18, 2017

Some urge more public input as Bears Ears’ fate looms -- The Salt Lake City Tribune

The 15-day window for public comment on Utah's Bears Ears National Monument is closing fast, prompting calls on the Department of Interior to expand the comment period beyond May 26 and to add ways for interested residents to weigh in on the controversial designation and 26 other large monuments.

Interior officials are soliciting input on the matter online through the federal website www.regulations.gov, despite the lack of internet access among some American Indians affiliated with the tribes that either proposed or support the 1.3-million-acre monument, recently designated in San Juan County's Cedar Mesa and surrounding canyon country west of Blanding.

Monument advocates say they were largely excluded from engaging with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during his four-day swing through Utah last week on a "listening tour" organized by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's staff. Zinke assured the media that everyone can make their views known through the website, but New Mexico's Sen. Martin Heinrich contends language and digital barriers will prevent many American Indians from participating.

"Internet access is far from universal in Indian Country," the Democratic lawmaker wrote in a letter last week to Zinke, asking for public hearings and a 45-day comment extension. "Across vast reaches of the Navajo Nation, even cell service is hard to come by." -- last updated 5/17/2017