The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have signed a cooperative agreement with five tribes that have inhabited the region surrounding Bears Ears National Monument for centuries: the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni.
“Today, instead of being removed from a landscape to make way for a public park, we are being invited back to our ancestral homelands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future,” Carleton Bowekaty, co-chair of the Bears Ears Commission and lieutenant governor of the Pueblo of Zuni, said in a statement.
The cooperative agreement between federal agencies and five tribal nations to co-manage Bears Ears National Monument is a welcome change and a positive first step in granting tribal nations real management authority over public lands that are part of their cultural heritage.
The Biden administration’s historic tribal partnership represents a sea change from the status quo, where tribes often hold symbolic advisory roles over public lands but lack the ability to make real decisions concerning the future of historic sites.
We hope the Bear Ears National Monument partnership serves as a catalyst for greater tribal management of public lands, a promising model that can protect important landscapes while avoiding the acrimony and pitfalls that often accompany national monument designations.
Of course, how federal agencies implement this cooperative agreement in practice will be critical to achieving its promise. But the agreement between the tribes and the federal government is certainly an important step in the right direction.