By Chris Morrill, Executive Director
Earlier this month, the Department of Interior (DOI) unveiled a new agreement with a coalition of local tribes that will formalize “co-management” of the restored Bears Ears National Monument. The goal of the historic agreement is to ensure that “management decisions affecting the monument reflect the expertise and traditional and historical knowledge of interested tribal nations and people.”
The agreement signed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Commission is the culmination of years of advocacy lead primarily by the Commission. In 2016, then President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument due primarily to the area’s distinct geological wonders, significant cultural resources, and the potential threat of fossil fuel development. The Trump Administration subsequently reduced the size of the Monument by 85%. Then, in October 2021, the Biden Administration restored the National Monument to its original size.
I found this quote from DOI’s press release particularly compelling in understanding the significance of these types of agreements:
“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. We are being asked to apply our traditional knowledge to both the natural and human-caused ecological challenges, drought, erosion, visitation, etc.,” said Bears Ears Commission Co-Chair and Lieutenant Governor of Zuni Pueblo Carleton Bowekaty. “What can be a better avenue of restorative justice than giving Tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of lands their ancestors were removed from?”
While there is broad acknowledgement of the maltreatment, genocide, and removal of native people from our public lands, the ideas for how to rectify that history has yet to be broadly put into practice. California’s history is replete with this horrific, racist treatment.
Co-management is one avenue many are considering to meaningfully integrate the history, knowledge, and story of native people into the management of our public lands; however, there are not many replicable examples. In fact, to-date there are no examples of meaningful co-management with the federal government in California.
CalWild has worked with many of our partners on a bill to protect an area currently known as Walker Ridge, adjacent to the current Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. The Ridge contains significant native biodiversity and holds cultural significance to local tribes. Notably, a recent effort to develop a wind farm in the area that would have leveled the ridgeline was blocked in no small part due to the work of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
Recently, Representative John Garamendi introduced this bill to permanently protect the ridge by expanding the National Monument into the area. The bill also proposes to change the name from Walker Ridge to Molok Luyuk (“Condor Ridge” in the local Patwin language). Finally, the bill proposes the possibility of a co-management agreement with the Yocha Dehe.
The bill outlines the need to meaningfully consult with the Yocha Dehe on the management of the area and includes the instruction for BLM and USFS to enter into agreements around land use planning and on-going management of the area with the local federally-recognized tribes. The Yocha Dehe continue to be extraordinary leaders on this bill and CalWild is proud to support them in these efforts.
These government-to-government agreements to collaboratively manage our public lands should be explored where they are appropriate. Agreements such as the one signed for Bears Ears can be a new avenue for achieving the goal of preserving the ecosystem health and cultural history of many of the public lands throughout California.
Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.