An HR 4532 Explainer

House Resolution 4532 (HR 4532 or Act), a bill introduced by Representative John Curtis at the same time as President Trump modified Bears Ears National Monument (BENM), is an interesting piece of legislation that deserves more serious consideration than it is getting.

The Shash Jáa and Indian Creek Management Framework

The majority of national monuments are managed by the National Park Service (NPS). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service also manage or co-manage a number of larger, landscape-scale monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. A handful of other federal agencies manage the small number of monuments not administered by the NPS, BLM or Forest Service. HR 4532 would depart from this paradigm by delegating principal management authority not to career bureaucrats at federal agencies but to management councils composed primarily of local representatives serving for a limited term.

Under HR 4532, the principal administrative authority for the Shash Jáa National Monument would be a body called the Tribal Management Council (TMC), which would consist of seven members appointed by the President after consultation with Utah’s congressional delegation. One member of the TMC would be an employee of either the Department of Interior (DOI) or Department of Agriculture, and the other six would be Utah residents not employed by the federal government. In turn, the six Utah members would be from defined populations: three members of the Navajo Nation, including at least one member of the Aneth Chapter, one member of the White Mesa Utes, and two San Juan County Commissioners.

The Indian Creek Management Council (ICMC) would be similar to the Shash Jáa TMC, but with different composition. Specifically, the ICMC would be a five-member council consisting of one employee of the DOI or Agriculture, one representative from the executive branch of the State of Utah, one member of a federally recognized Utah Indian Tribe, and two San Juan County Commissioners.

In addition to requiring tribal membership on the management councils, including majority membership on the Shash Jáa TMC, the Act would retain the Bears Ears Commission (BEC) in the same advisory role as established by President Obama’s 2016 proclamation. (The BEC is a five-member body, with one representative each from the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Uintah Ute Tribe, and the Zuni Tribe.) By preserving the BEC, the Act would keep open a channel for incorporating into monument management the insight and input of two contemporary Puebloan tribes who have ancestral roots in the region but have been physically disconnected from southeastern Utah for generations.

HR 4532 also requires the formation of a nine-member Archaeological Resource Protection Unit (ARPU), which would consist of experts in the preservation of antiquities and other resources of significant value in the monument. The Act requires staffing each of the Shash Jáa and Indian Creek units with at least 10 law enforcement officers, and appropriates $10.5 million ($1.5 million per year for seven years) for the development and implementation of the monument management plan. By allocating meaningful resources to the monument, the Act could substantially improve the preservation of antiquities and other important resources.

Observations and Analysis

The management structure contemplated by HR 4532 can fairly be summarized as orienting decision-making authority at the local level, but within parameters established by federal and state law and with the input and guidance of relevant scientific and cultural advisers. The Act requires the formulation of a management plan that is responsive to the monument’s declaration of purpose[1] and complies with federal laws like the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, etc. This planning directive is substantially the same as other national monuments, but the task of crafting and implementing the plan is given to a local management council rather than a federal agency.

This approach to public lands management is somewhat similar to that of the 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in Washington County. In that case, the designation of the Mojave desert tortoise as threatened under the Endangered Species Act led to a multi-entity management compact and Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP delegates principal management responsibility to Washington County, with guidance provided by a Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee, a seven-member body with one member each from: the US Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Washington County Mayors’ Association, an environmental organization, citizens-at-large, and the local development community. Further scientific expertise is provided by a Technical Committee made of up government agency staffers, and day-to-day operational responsibility is shouldered by a small staff of employees led by a Reserve Administrator. Funding of Reserve administration is born primarily by the county; in its first 20 years of existence, the average annual cost to the county has been about $0.5 million per year. Of course, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is not perfectly analogous to Shash Jáa and Indian Creek monuments, but its history may be instructive for anyone trying to better envision the way HR 4532 might work in practice.

Two Other Noteworthy Details

  1. HR 4532 is not a land transfer bill. The public’s land would not be grabbed, stolen or sold by its passage. The federal government would continue to manage the vast majority of the land in San Juan County, just as they have for decades. For most of the land placed outside the new monument boundaries, this primarily means the continued implementation of the BLM’s current Resource Management Plan.
  2. There has been a steady stream of misleading and factually questionable articles suggesting that the point of the monument reduction is to roll back the prohibitions on resource extraction contained in the 2016 Bears Ears Proclamation. It is noteworthy, therefore, that HR 4532 would withdraw from resource extraction not just the land within Shash Jáa and Indian Creek monument boundaries, but the same roughly 1.35 million acres as the Obama-designated boundaries. This bears repeating: in terms of resource extraction, there is zero difference between President Obama’s 2016 Proclamation and Representative Curtis’s HR 4532.[2]



[1] HR 4532 § 101(b). PURPOSE. –The purpose of the Shash Jáa National Monument shall be to protect, conserve, and enhance the unique and nationally important historic, sacred, cultural, scientific, scenic, archaeological, natural, and educational resources of the Shash Jáa National Monument.

[2] HR 4532 § 3. WITHDRAWAL.

Subject to valid existing rights, all Federal land and interests in land within the exterior boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument declared under Presidential Proclamation 9558, dated December 28, 2016, is withdrawn from—

(1) all forms of entry, appropriation, and disposal under the public land laws;

(2) location, entry, and patent under the mining laws; and

(3) operation of the mineral leasing, mineral materials, and geothermal leasing laws.