Commentary: Utah tribal leaders oppose Utah exemption to the Roadless Rule

Courtesy | Dan Schroeder Hikers enjoy the view into Mollen's Hollow from the Monte Cristo plateau. This canyon at the headwaters of Blacksmith's Fork drains into the Cache Valley. In the latest version of the Ogden Ranger District travel plan, the U.S. Forest Service reversed its authorization of a new ATV trail through this and another roadless area. Photo courtesy of Dan Schroeder.

The United States should reject Utah’s proposal to allow road building across 4 million acres of Utah’s public lands. This action will neither diminish forest fires nor lead to healthier lands, as Utah leaders claim.

Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office (PLPCO) is wrong to petition Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exempt Utah from the 2001 Roadless Rule, an action that will only degrade and make these lands more vulnerable to wildfire. The logic and claim of PLPCO does not make sense.

This is the reason the Utah Tribal Leaders Association (UTL) — which represents the Confederated Tribes of Goshute, Skull Valley Band of Goshute, Navajo Nation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation, San Juan Southern Paiute, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe — made its voices heard on the important issue of whether our state should be exempt from the longstanding national roadless rule. (Note: The Ute Indian Tribe was not present at the time of the 7-0 vote by UTL).

The 2001 Roadless Rule protects 49% of U.S. Forest Service lands in Utah, including 76,000 acres inside of the original Bears Ears National Monument. As an indigenous citizen who holds deep ties to these public lands, I want to see the 2001 Roadless Rule left intact to ensure the protection of drinking water, wildlife habitat, cultural resources (such as medicinal foods and herbs sacred sites) and primitive recreation opportunities. These lands and natural resources are critical to my spiritual, mental, physical and emotional wellbeing as a Diné person. As the board chair for Utah Diné Bikéyah, I oppose Utah’s exemption and urge Perdue to keep existing protections in place.

I speak and share some of the same concerns as my relatives, who are Nuche (Ute), Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo peoples. As indigenous peoples of the Bears Ears region, we see the impacts of looting and exploitation of our ancestral lands.

It is ironic that the state of Utah successfully convinced President Trump to unlawfully reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 1.1 million acres by arguing that Bears Ears was already protected. President Trump’s executive order states that, “many of the objects Proclamation 9558 identifies were not under threat of damage or destruction before designation … For example, more than 500,000 acres were already being managed to maintain, enhance, or protect their roadless character before they were designated as part of a national monument.”

The state of Utah argued that these lands were already protected, and once again is going about further eroding protections for Native American cultural resources.

We are not anti-road. In fact, when it comes to our Native communities, there is extreme need for improved roads. Often, our children face the plight of muddy, slushy road conditions to get to school, every time significant moisture blesses our Earth Mother.

Which raises another question. Is tribal-trust consultation happening among Utah’s eight tribal sovereigns, or between the state and federal government? Last week PLPCO presented to the Utah Tribal Leaders Association, but this was the first time and happened weeks after the state finalized and submitted its development proposal for these protected areas. Tribal consultation requirements mandate meeting with Tribes whose ancestral lands and living cultures may be affected by proposals like Utah’s exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule.

Utah Tribal Leaders Association unanimously oppose Utah’s exemption. Most of my colleagues, who are also my leaders, asked why the Tribes were not consulted on this issue which affects our ancestral lands. And why is road building with federal and state funds proposed as a conservation solution, when roads are actually needed for Native American community development and safety.

The 2001 Roadless Rule helps keeps our forests healthy and protects the habitat of our non-human relatives – bears, elk, big horn sheep, moose, mountain lions, mule deer and hundreds of other animals and plants.

As an indigenous public lands citizen, who is an enrolled member of the sovereign Navajo Nation, I point out that tribal-trust consultation mandates that industry and federal agencies need to work with us, and not exclude us from these dialogues that affect our shared future. That is why we are asking the secretary to please deny Utah’s exemption to the 2001 Roadless Rule, and we are asking all Utahns to support us in ensuring we have a seat at the land planning table. We have thousands of years of stewardship experience on these public lands.


(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Davis Filfred, Council Delegate, Navajo Nation, speaks during a press conference at the Salt Lake Marriott City Center Monday, December 4, 2017.

Davis Filfred, Aneth, is the board chairman of Utah Diné Bikéyah.