Mapping Bears Ears National Monument

Considerable controversy surrounds the areas designated for protection in Southeastern Utah, which have culminated in two Presidential Proclamations.  

The first proclamation (Dec 28th, 2016), was made by President Barack Obama, who had been petitioned in a joint effort of five Native American Nations to establish federal protection over those lands.   In the petition, a partnership of the Native American governments defined 1.9 million acres of land that encompassed many thousands of archeological and culturally significant sites. (1)    Obama’s Proclamation (#9558) was made under the auspices of the Antiquities Act, and decreed an area of 1.35 million acres to be established as the Bear’s Ears National Monument.  (2)

According to an article published in the Atlantic at the time of Obama’s enactment, a group of Republican lawmakers were enraged that this was done by “a lame duck” President. (3)  Unsuccessful in getting their own legislation passed to preserve parts of the same area, they vowed to undo Obama’s legacy.

One year later, on Dec 4th, 2017,  President Donald Trump has done exactly that with his own proclamation (#9681), which makes the case that it was not necessary to reserve such a large area to preserve historical sites that are already protected by other statues.  With a stroke of his pen, Trump has removed over 1 million acres from the Bears Ears National Monument lands, reducing the protection to some 200,000 acres. (4)

How can we go about mapping this situation?   And how does this relate to the management of these lands, and the public claims process by which mining interests or others might stake a claim on these lands?

With these questions in mind, we called the National Offices of the Bureau of Land Management and spoke with Christopher McAlear, Assistant Director, Office of National Conservation Lands and Community Partnerships.   Mr. McAlear cheerfully explained some of the more general aspects of the situation, which are also documented on the BLM website.   (5)

We found that the current press reports about the million acres of lands being opened to exploration and staking of claims, is true to the extent that the Trump proclamation has reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument from 1.3 million acres to 200,000 acres.   However, to take this in context, the BLM manages more than 245 million acres of lands found in 12 Western states, with an additional 700 million acres of subsurface rights over which it has jurisdiction.   Therefore, the Obama proclamation had protected the equivalent of 0.5% of the BLM lands.  

Indeed, if we take a look at the Obama monument boundary (an unofficial version published on ESRI data sharing geonetwork) (6), we can see that it covers about 75% of the area requested in the petition from the coalition of Native American Nations.   Overlayed onto a dataset of all public land claims recorded by the BLM (from 1997 – 2010), we can see that there have been considerable stakes claimed in the area that was protected by the Obama proclamation.  (7)

Map of the Obama designated Bears Ears Monument overlayed on mining claims from the Bureau of Land Management

The boundary modification that Trump has enacted is seen in the following Dept of Interior map. (8)


Map of Bears Ears boundary as modified by Trump


The BLM have provided the official datasets for these boundary changes on their BLM Navigator website.   (A big thank you to all the BLM staff for following up on our request!)

Obama National Monument Extent: 

Trump National Monument Extent:

two maps comparing the Obama 2016 boundaries with Trump 2017 boundaries

The boundaries, as revised by the Trump enactment, have obviously reduced the Bears Ears section of the protected area to the original extents of the Indian Creek National Monument (in the North) and the Shash Jaa National Monument (in the South).

According to the official press release from the Dept of the Interior, the modification of the boundary was made in consultation with the area stakeholders, including the Tribal representatives from the alliance that had original petitioned President Obama.  (9)

Regardless of the official pronouncements and the current press surrounding Bears Ears, the mapping of the situation should take into consideration other factors, in particular a more thorough summary of the current mining claims that overlap both the Obama and Trump protected lands.  

For example, Daniel Brownstein has an extensive report on Bears Ears that is worth further analysis. (10)   In his report, Brownstein points to many mineral deposits, in particular Uranium deposits, as reported in the Washington Post (11).


Map of Uranium development potential in Bears Ears area, Washington Post

It is worth noting that the Obama encacted boundary also did not include the area of the Daneros Mine Area, which is not contained by the White border shown in the Washington Post map.   But the Trump revision, by falling back to the earlier Indian Creek and Shash Jaa National Monuments no longer includes large swathes of potential uranium and oil deposits.

Do these maps reveal potential conflicts of interest between the establishment of National Monuments and mining interests?  If not, why has the enlargement of the Bears Ears National Monument protected lands been swiftly reversed?

Perhaps more importantly, if Bears Ears National Monument only represents 0.5% of the BLM managed lands, what is going on in the other 99.5% of those 245 million acres?   Does the public have any access to the data, or a right to know how our federally administered lands are being developed?  

The BLM is doing a great job of publishing the geographic extents of protected lands.   We hope that data related to the current claims and leases on those lands will also be available for further analysis, in order to answer some of the questions we have posed above.



(1)  TRIBES FORMALLY PRESENT BEARS EARS PROPOSAL TO OBAMA ADMINISTRATION  (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance,  Autumn / Winter 2015)

(2)  Presidential Proclamation – Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument

(3)  “Obama's Environmental Legacy, in Two Buttes” by Robinson Meyer.  (The Atlantic, Dec 30th, 2016)

(4) Presidential Proclamation - Modifying the Bears Ears National Monument

(5) BLM Bears Ears National Monument

(6) Bears Ears National Monument (as decreed by President Obama in Dec. 2016), unofficial boundary by P. Aniello (2017)

(7)  “Mining Claim Activity on Federal Land in the United States,”  By J. Douglas Causey (U.S. Geological Survey, Data Series 290, Version 4.0, 2007, revised 2011)

(8)  Bears Ears Monument Boundary Modification

(9)  President Trump and Secretary Zinke Announce Modification to Utah Monuments

(10)  “Clipping Bears Ears,” by Daniel Brownstein.  Musings on Maps (Dec 5th 2017)

(11)  “Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument,” by Juliet Elperin in Washington Post (Dec 8th 2017)

 (12) "The feds want to give $14 million in taxpayer money to a Koch brother’s coal mine" by Katie Herzog.  Grist (Jan 13th, 2016)



 reported by Lex Berman  (2018-02-01)


See also: policy