Proposal to build a visitors' center at Bears Ears National Monument taking shape on Utah's Capitol Hill

Posted at 10:17 PM, Feb 08, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Political foes at odds over the Bears Ears National Monument officially unveiled their bipartisan bill aimed at creating a visitors' center outside the monument.

Democrat Rep. Doug Owens, a supporter of restoring the national monument, and Republican Rep. Phil Lyman, a proponent of the reduction of Bears Ears, stood united at the Capitol Monday.

“We know that visitation is up in the area 72% since the monument was designated,” Owens said.

Lyman commended Owens for including him on the bill.

“I come at this from a different direction, but we both come to the same conclusion that there should be a facility there to help direct and help educate people who are coming to see that area," Lyman said.

The state lawmakers are setting aside their differences and working together to create a task force.

They’re inviting the five tribes — Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni, Hopi and Navajo — to handle every aspect of the visitors' center, including the location, look and function.

“This is not an effort by the state legislature to control the narrative on this — this is between the tribes and Congress,” Lyman said.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition represents the five sovereign tribal nations.

“The general notion of having a visitors' center at its primacy would promote native culture, as well as traditional native knowledge," said Patrick Gonzales Rogers, executive director of the coalition. "Yes, that’s something I think all the tribes would be behind."

With only one Utah tribe in the coalition, Gonzales Rogers says it's problematic for other tribes to weigh in on a state action. He says they’ll need to look at what Utah wants to do.

“Tribes have had a fairly acerbic relationship with the state of Utah, and so while we would like to be collaborative, I think they want to do their homework before they weigh in from a formal position," he said.

Representatives Owens and Lyman would like lawmakers to sign off on the bill this session. That way a year from now, a committee will be in place and can move the project forward, and most importantly, securing federal funds.