Mike Noel asks constitutional council to investigate group calling for national monument in Utah
By BRIAN MAFFLY | The Salt Lake Tribune, First Published Apr 27 2016 06:00PM
Making good on his recent threat to investigate Bears Ears supporters, Utah lawmaker Mike Noel on Wednesday persuaded colleagues on the state Constitutional Defense Council to ask Attorney General Sean Reyes to “ferret out” environmentalists’ ties to the tribal groups proposing a national monument in San Juan County.
Without offering much in the way of proof, Noel, a Republican representative from Kanab, said the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is being manipulated by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance or other groups into pushing for a national monument. Such a designation, he said, would actually impede tribal members’ wood gathering and other traditional activities on Cedar Mesa and other areas covered by the 1.9 million-acre monument proposal.
One Navajo Nation Council called the move insulting.
“We speak for ourselves and our tribal members who have overwhelmingly called on us to make sure Bears Ears becomes a national monument,” said Davis Filfred, a Navajo Nation Council delegate who represents Utah’s Mexican Water, Aneth, Teec Nos Pos, Tolikan and Red Mesa chapters.
The elected councils of five Colorado Plateau tribes — Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, Hopi and Ute — have formed the coalition to urge President Barack Obama to use the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears before he leaves office in January. The proposal itself was developed by a grass-roots nonprofit known as Utah Dine Bikeyah, which has landed endorsements for a monument from 24 nearby tribes. Many trace their ancestral heritage to Cedar Mesa, which is covered in tens of thousands of archaeological sites left by the Anasazi.
Noel denounces this tribal buy-in as a “charade” manufactured by meddling outside environmental groups that pay Utah Dine Bikeyah board members and bankroll their lobbying forays to Washington. His call for a probe into the group’s finances and relationships drew numerous rebukes.
Under pressure from the lone Democrat at the table Wednesday, Rep. Brian King, of Salt Lake City, the Constitutional Defense Council expanded its resolution and will probe all groups involved with Bears Ears, both for and against the monument.
King said Noel’s probe smacks of a “witch hunt” and falls outside the scope of the council’s statutory duties, which focus on asserting state sovereignty against an overbearing federal government. Investigating those with whom the council has a political disagreement is an “intimidation bullying tactic,” King said.