John Curtis: Contrary to false claims, my bill empowers Utah’s local tribes

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) John Curtis, Republican candidate for 3rd Congressional District celebrates his win at the Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. The winner of the November special election will fill the congressional seat recently vacated by Jason Chaffetz.

Following President Trump’s December visit to Utah to shrink the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, tensions have risen sharply between supporters and opponents of President Obama’s 2016 monument designation. Modeled on the success we achieved when I was the mayor of Provo, I came to Congress to take on complex challenges like this and to bring people together to solve difficult problems.

That is precisely why I introduced H.R. 4532, the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian National Monument Act. It comes as no surprise to me that since introducing my legislation, there has been a lot of misinformation about the bill, as well as some attempts to paint this effort as an attack on local Native Tribes and a destructive plan to open these majestic archeological treasures to oil and gas development. I want to set the record straight — both claims are simply false.

First, I want to address the untrue claims that my bill is a purposeful affront to Native American tribes. For many years, Utah’s Native tribes have been seeking a seat at the table for the management and protection of their sacred ancestral sites and artifacts within the Bears Ears region. Although Obama wanted to give the tribes meaningful co-management of the Bears Ears National Monument, his executive authority under the Antiquities Act was limited — because these are federally owned lands — and to achieve this worthy objective would require an act of Congress.

When Obama designated the Bears Ears Monument, his proclamation created the Bears Ears Commission, made up of representation from five Native American tribes, which can only provide “guidance and recommendations” on management plans and monument management.

Where the Bears Ears Commission gives the Native American tribes an opportunity to play an advisory role, my bill creates the first ever tribally co-managed national monument in history. By creating a Tribal Management Council, my bill gives local Utah tribes and locally elected leaders an opportunity to have real and meaningful management authority over the monument. It is also important to note that my legislation keeps the Bears Ears Commission intact — exactly as it was structured under President Obama’s proclamation.

Second, some have incorrectly claimed I only introduced this bill to increase resource development — especially oil and gas — in the Bears Ears region. This could not be further from the truth.

My bill explicitly bans any new mining, drilling and other resource development, both in the new, smaller monument boundaries, and also throughout the original 1.35 million acres of Obama’s original Bears Ears Monument designation. In other words, the mineral withdrawal provisions of my bill will prevent any new oil and gas or mining development in the larger Bears Ears area.

Furthermore, my bill is all about protecting these historic and sacred tribal sites and significant archeological areas. While a president designating a national monument sounds great on paper, it rarely results in the resources necessary to properly protect these majestic and beautiful places.

That is why legislative action is imperative and urgent. My bill provides at least 10 law enforcement personnel per national monument and creates an Archaeological Resources Protection Unit to ensure important artifacts and sites are protected from looters and trespassers, and so future generations can enjoy these magnificent ranges.

My entire objective in introducing the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian National Monument Act is to provide a path forward to bring both sides together to resolve this issue. By using the legislative process, rather than unilateral executive action, to designate and codify these national monuments in statute, as well as granting authority to local Native tribes and elected officials to effectively manage these monuments, we will finally be able to give long-term certainty to the locally affected communities and bring an end to this divisive dispute. Most importantly, this bill provides the resources necessary to properly enforce the laws in place to protect these lands.

John Curtis, a Republican, represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.