An alphabet soup of ideas: A new SMA plan joins the mix of public-lands proposals in San Juan County


Commissioner Phil Lyman listens to a constituent during a county lands council meeting in Blanding where the stakeholders were hopeful they could reach consensus on a proposal for federal land designations in San Juan County. Photo by Sonja Horoshko.

A new plan has been added to the plethora of alternatives being considered by San Juan County, Utah, for managing federal public lands in the county.

The new plan calls for designating a 2-million-acre special management area in the county. It was introduced at a meeting of the county Lands Council on May 11.

It represents the latest response to the process that began in October 2013 when Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both Republicans, invited the commissioners in eight eastern Utah counties to survey their constituents regarding their interest in participating in the Utah Public Lands Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to come up with a package of management proposals for the vast swaths of scenic and resource-rich federal lands within the counties that would provide an alternative to the designation of a national monument by President Obama.

Since then, various counties have met with various stakeholders and come up with proposals, but San Juan County is still struggling to reach agreement on its plan.

The concept of the new SMA “was developed by the staff of the congressional delegation,” San Juan County planner Nick Sandberg told the Free Press.

Fred Ferguson, lead staff person for the Public Lands Initiative and chief of staff for Chaffetz, said in an email that “the SMA concept has been discussed, but not formally offered. The concept may or may not have legs down the road. It’s just an early discussion idea.” It is being looked at as an additional option to the existing alternatives that could offer some protection of cultural resources while also supporting economic- development opportunities for the stakeholders in the county.

An NCA proposal

The commissioners have made it clear in public statements that they want the Lands Council, composed of 14 appointed citizens from all parts of the county, to seriously consider all submissions as they seek to craft a land management proposal that best fits the needs of San Juan County citizens.

“We entered the process in good faith, appointed a citizens advisory committee,” said Commissioner Phil Lyman, who serves on the committee. “They started back in January 2014 and met through the year during more than 20 meetings to date, and many more recently with representatives of Diné Bikéyah and Ute Mountain Ute. We asked for their representation all along, but there was little involvement up until the end.”

Diné Bikéyah is a San Juan County-based Navajo group organized to develop a plan that represents the Navajo Nation’s interests in the initiative. Diné Bikeyah’s plan calls for the creation of the Bear’s Ears National Conservation Area. It is backed by Navajo Nation Council legislation and has been presented to Bishop and Chaffetz as well as to the county.

The NCA proposal would allow for traditional uses of the land such as holding ceremonies and gathering herbs and firewood, while also protecting sacred, cultural and archeological sites. It also calls for an increased and substantial management role for Native tribes who have a deep, historical relationship to the land in question.

Support for the Bear’s Ears NCA has grown into an organized coalition of 24 tribes/pueblos and five conservation groups. (See Free Press, May 2015.)

From June 2015. Read similar stories about .