This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
On Oct. 21, the Department of the Interior released a secretarial order encouraging cooperative land management partnerships between federal agencies and tribes. This comes at a prescient time in Utah when tribes are unsatisfied with how federal, state and local governments have managed their ancestral lands.
This dissatisfaction is manifest in the proposal for a Bears Ears National Monument, which calls for the protection of some 1.9 million acres in southern Utah sacred to five tribes. But while the feds and tribes may find themselves in agreement, Utahns may be left with crucial questions like, "What is collaborative management, and what will it do for me?"
The public at large should be asking these questions, as our nation lacks precedent for bottom-up collaborative management between sovereign tribal governments and the United States government where both are engaged in the decision making process. Indeed, the Bears Ears National Monument would become the first in the U.S. to formalize these relations, creating something unlike anything this country has seen before.
But while we lack a national precedent, there is a global precedent for this type of arrangement, one that has brought significant benefits to all involved.
In Australia, researchers have found that collaborative management arrangements produce two mirrored results: a healthier natural environment and healthier indigenous communities as they re-engage in caring for their ancestral lands. This movement, known as "healthy country, healthy people," reveals the significant benefits that can arise from cooperation, achieving win-win outcomes that include increased biodiversity and decreased health problems. The results lead many to argue that collaborative management is a clear path for sustainable economic development in rural communities.
Closer to home, our neighbors to the north have also successfully implemented collaborative management schemes. While not as integrated as many of the Australian cases, the Canadian government has also realized the benefits of integrating traditional knowledge from First Nations people into management decisions, and have established indigenous co-operative management boards, which oversee the operations of some of Canada's National Parks.
Of course, achieving similar results at Bears Ears may take time, but the social, ecological and economic benefits of doing so could certainly be worth it. The five tribes refer to these outcomes broadly as achieving "healing for people and the earth," and ,considering the Bears Ears proposal in a global context, we should not be surprised to see increased resilience of diverse ecosystems and increased health of tribal people (possibly followed by a reduction in the cost of Indian Health Services paid by the Utah Department of Health).
Moreover, such an arrangement would do as much as possible to preserve the rich archaeological heritage that is currently at risk in the area, all while possibly encouraging an influx of federal and tourism dollars that would provide a significant economic benefit to local populations.
The establishment of a collaboratively managed Bears Ears National Monument would honor the rights of sovereign tribal governments, preserve natural and cultural resources, and hopefully provide tangible environmental, health and economic benefits to local people.
While our nation lacks a general model of collaborative management, Bears Ears provides an opportunity for Utahns to elevate the region and the nation as a global example of what is possible when federal, state and local governments work with tribal governments to meet shared goals and preserve our public lands.
Brian Codding is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Utah. This opinion does not represent the university or any of its subdivisions.