Most popular Celebrate Cedar Mesa weekend!

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Most popular Celebrate Cedar Mesa weekend!

Celebrate Cedar Mesa event draws record crowd

What a celebratory event! Friends of Cedar Mesa wants to thank the 400 guests who joined us in Bluff March 3-5th, 2017 for a weekend of learning, exploration, and conversation about Cedar Mesa and the future of Bears Ears. A special thanks goes to our sponsor, Opsrey Packs of Cortez, CO.

This was our biggest Celebrate Cedar Mesa event – so big in fact that it sold out two weeks in advance. We saw many new and familiar faces and learned that a quarter of our attendees traveled over 300 miles to take part in the weekend and celebrate the landscape.
The event kicked off Friday with four service projects, 40 volunteers, and 200 service hours on public lands in San Juan County.

Still smiling after helping with visitor improvements at Sand Island campground.

Friday evening, over one hundred folks gathered under the cold, dark skies of Calf Canyon to listen to and discuss Native and local perspectives on the Bears Ears landscape. Many thanks to Torrey House Press, Utah Humanities Council and our speakers for a stellar event.

Sam Mix of Osprey Packs was awarded “Backyard Champion of the Year” for their efforts to protect Bears Ears. Photo (c) Tim Peterson

FCM Board Members | Photo (c) Tim Peterson

Hopi Vice Chairmen Alfred Lomahquah spoke enthusiastically about the process to protecting Bears Ears, and its future | Photo (c) Tim Peterson

John Ruple discusses the legality of altering the Bears Ears National Monument | Photo (c) Tim Peterson

Archaeologist Don Simonis was awarded “Career of Service” for his time with the BLM. Photo (c) Tim Peterson

Saturday was a packed line-up of archaeology, policy, paleontology and general updates. The day closed with a keynote by author Craig Childs, who kept the audience captive with his tales of exploring Bears Ears and his call to protect it from “being devoured.”

Hikers respectfully explore areas of the new Bears Ears National Monument.

For the second year in a row, FCM organized workshops and free hikes for Friends. A range of local experts and Board Members helped take folks out on the landscape or hosted fantastic workshops about photography and pottery.

Thanks… and see you all next year!

Another year, a lot to celebrate, and even more to advocacy and on-the-ground work to accomplish in 2017. We hope to see you at Celebrate Cedar Mesa next year on March 2-4, 2018.

Top Memorable Moments of 2016

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Top Memorable Moments of 2016


Cedar Mesa protected in Bears Ears National Monument

History Made … Sigh of Relief!

What a campaign it has been. After years of collaborative work between Native American Tribes, archaeologists, conservation organizations and enthusiastic supporters, the Bears Ears cultural landscape was finally protected. The 1.35 million-acre National Monument was created just a few days before the end of 2016 on December 28.



Reward Fund to deter looting, vandalism

We’d been working for two years with law enforcement from various land management agencies to create a Reward Fund for looting and vandalism incidents when we heard of two more devastating incidents in early 2016: a rogue ATV rider who rode rampant over a Pueblo II site and an attempt to remove Basketmaker rock art with a rock saw. By May, we were ready to launch our $2500 Reward Fund in tandem with our Cultural Resource Defense Campaign. We are grateful for the support of the BLM, NPS and SITLA in making this reward fund a possible tool for deterring illegal activity. Supporters put up $8,000 for our Defense Campaign, but we have much more work to do. You can make a contribution to the reward fund and our monitoring programs today.


Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visits Bluff, listens to community about protecting Bears Ears

By our estimate, 1,400 people gathered in Bluff on a sweltering Saturday in July to share their perspectives on protecting Bears Ears with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. The Secretary was joined by Robert Bonnie, Undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture, BLM Director Neil Kornze, Park Service Director John Jarvis, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Roberts. Bluff provided a warm welcome to our visitors for the 4-hour listening session where almost everyone who spoke agreed: this area deserves protection.


New staff member Marcia Simonis to kickstarts Statewide Site Steward Program

This July, former Board Member and educator Marcia Simonis joined our staff as the Statewide Site Steward Program Coordinator for all of Utah. Marcia’s position is a partnership with the Utah BLM to develop and expand site steward monitoring programs for diverse audiences across the state. For the latest on Marcia’s work and the program, read her December report.


At a public meeting in Bluff, the vast majority of attendees opposed the sale, by show of hands.


Sale privatizes treasured part of Comb Ridge

On October 19, there was a ripple of broken hearts through Bluff and the greater community with connections to Comb Ridge when a 391-acre parcel of it was sold at auction. The private buyer, Lyman Family Farms, outbid conservation buyers at a SITLA auction. This land should never have been on the chopping block, and this sad tale shows what happens when lands that should be public are sold to the highest bidder.



The scenic Chimney Rocks area, where one well is planned, contains fragile hoodoos, similar to those found in Goblin Valley.


Bluff reacts to news of proposed oil wells near town

The news of 3 new oil wells on the Bluff Bench inside the original area proposed for protect by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition galvanized the Bluff community in support of the National Monument. Together with the Bluff community and Bluff elected officials, we wrote letters, scheduled meetings and traveled to DC to learn more about the proposed BLM well applications and SITLA well and express our concerns that this proposed drilling is a direct threat to Bluff’s water and tourism-based economy. The fight is far from over, as much of the Bluff Bench was excluded from the new National Monument.



PLI legislation fails to win support of conservation community

We had always favored a legislative solution for protecting Cedar Mesa.  However, after working on the Public Lands Initiative process for three years, the PLI was introduced into the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and with far too many “poison pills” and last minute changes that forced us to oppose the legislation. With Congress wrapping up the 2016 session without protecting Cedar Mesa, we turned our hopes and efforts to President Obama and a National Monument.




Rock Art exhibit opens at Kane Gulch Ranger Station

If you haven’t yet checked out the new world-class rock art exhibit at Kane Gulch, make this a priority for 2017. The new exhibit at the Ranger Station on Cedar Mesa spans thousands of years of rock stories and goes into a level of fascinating detail that will please any archaeology nerd (like us!) This exhibit was made possible by our generous donors and a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Bluff local and rock-art expert Joe Pachak helping to document pictographs in Grand Gulch.


Grand Gulch rock art recording project

In early September, a group of rock art buffs hiked into Grand Gulch with rock art expert Sally Cole to record two rock art panels with significant Basketmaker rock art. The cool part? We’re going to do more backcountry recording projects in the future!



BLM Launches Respect & Protect Program with support of FCM

Many cultural resource protection voices showed their support across Utah when the BLM launched the Respect & Protect campaign. The messaging and tools in this campaign will be used throughout the state to promote awareness and conservation of Utah’s archaeological and paleontological heritage. We’re excited to tier our Visit with Respect initiative campaign to the Respect & Protect campaign on current and future projects.


Best attended Celebrate Cedar Mesa

At our biggest Celebrate event yet, most attendees agree the highlight was the Native American Perspectives on Bears Ears Panel. We hope to see you at the 2017 Celebrate Cedar Mesa March 3-5 for a keynote by Craig Child, presentations, hikes, live music by Wake Up Laughing and more.

Volunteers at Muley Point removed 2000 lbs of trash from fire rings.


817 Service Hours on the landscape

Our service projects took us all over San Juan County this year: Elk Ridge, Cedar Mesa, Muley Point and the lands around Bluff. Many thanks to our many volunteers who put in some time and got their hands dirty.
It’s been quite the year for Friends of Cedar Mesa and our strong network of supporters. Read about our accomplishments in our 2016 Year End Wrap-Up, and see what we’re looking forward to in 2017!

Celebrate Cedar Mesa: March 3-5, 2017

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Celebrate Cedar Mesa: March 3-5, 2017

Bears Ears: What lies ahead?

Celebrate Cedar Mesa is our annual gathering for people who care about the greater Cedar Mesa area and all of the fantastic public lands in San Juan County. This year’s event will be a true celebration with the recent designation of the Bears Ears National Monument! Join us for a weekend of fun, including a keynote by author Craig Childs.

This year’s weekend is presented by Osprey Packs.



Friday, March 3, 2017

10:00AM – 4:00PM: Service Projects – FULL

Registration for service projects is now full.

7:00PM – 9:00PM: Fireside Readings Co-hosted by Torrey House Press – Calf Canyon


Saturday, March 4, 2017

8:30AM – 5PM: Main Friends Gathering with keynote by Craig Childs, presentations, slideshows, research updates and more – FULL

  • View the finalized event program here. 
  • Registration for Saturday events is now full. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you next year!
  • Sorry but furry friends (except service animals) are not allowed in the Community Center.

Friends Gathering Details

Location: Bluff Community Center

The Saturday program is the “main event” of our Celebrate Cedar Mesa weekend. You’ll hear a keynote presentation by author Craig Childs, updates on policy and research, see slideshows, and join in engaging conversation about key issues facing the area.

Registration includes:

  • A scrumptious lunch
  • Taco bar dinner
  • Admittance to “After Party,” with live music by Wake Up Laughing.

All registrants will be entered to win some fabulous door prizes provided by Osprey Packs, Patagonia, & The North Face.

6:00PM – 7:30PM: Potluck taco bar dinner at the Community Center

Out of town guests are encouraged to bring a dessert to share!

8:00PM – 10:00PM: After Party, with live music by Wake Up Laughing at Rusticks Gallery

After Party & Band Details

Location: Rusticks Gallery

Wake Up Laughing is a dynamic three-piece band out of SW Colorado. They bring an eclectic mix of originals with mindful lyrics and old-school covers with their own funky twists and turns. Their live shows are high energy with lots of smiling and laughter. Bring your dancing shoes and have a good time! Free entrance for all Gathering Registrants only.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

9:00AM Free Organized/Guided Hikes  – FULL

Organized Hiking Registration and Details

Location: Meet at Bluff Community Center to carpool

Click here to learn about hikes and register.

9:00AM Workshops

Workshop Registration and Details

Location: Meet inside Bluff Community Center 

FCM is hosting several engaging workshops with specialists. Registration costs range from $0 – $30. Group limits mean workshops will fill up quickly so register today!

Workshops include:

  • Photography
  • Ancestral Puebloan Replica Pottery painting & firing
  • Pottery Identification
  • Pottery Tally in-field workshop




Lodging & Camping –

If you are looking for a place to stay, has great ideas of local hotels. FCM has a reserved Group Campsite B at Sand Island Campground and there are a couple of spots left. Please email Amanda if you would like to reserve a spot there.

Statement on Congress failing to protect Cedar Mesa and the Bears Ears

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Statement on Congress failing to protect Cedar Mesa and the Bears Ears

Friday, December 9, 2016

“Congress has concluded its work for the 2016 session without so much as a vote in the House of Representatives on the Utah Public Lands Initiative. We believe this represents a clear sign the bill lacked the bi-partisan support necessary to become law due to the many ‘poison pills’ it contained that would have decreased protections on the ground for internationally significant lands.

“Congress has failed for 113 years to protect the Bears Ears region, an area of enormous cultural, scientific and scenic value – a landscape containing more archaeological sites than Utah’s ‘Mighty Five’ National Parks combined. This failure to act comes despite almost unanimous local support for protecting archaeologically rich areas such as Cedar Mesa. Virtually every Utah elected official expressed support for the PLI’s provisions for designating large acreages of land in San Juan County as National Conservation Areas and Wilderness.

“We hope President Obama will finish the job Congress could not by designating a Bears Ears National Monument before he leaves office. Such action would represent the quintessential use of the Antiquities Act to protect true antiquities when the legislative process has failed. While we always preferred a legislative solution, this executive action is precisely what Congress envisioned when it delegated to the President the authority to create National Monuments.

With skyrocketing visitation without management resources, continuing looting and vandalism, and the bulls eye of out-of-state energy developers, we don’t have 113 more years to wait for Congress to get the job done.”


— Josh Ewing, Executive Director


2016 Volunteer & Donor Appreciation BBQ

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2016 Volunteer & Donor Appreciation BBQ

Volunteer & Donor Appreciation BBQ

November 12, 2016 at 5:00 pm – Bluff, UT


Please RSVP on the form below for the event.

Bluff Rallies For Bears Ears, Against Oilfield

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Bluff Rallies For Bears Ears, Against Oilfield

Biggest Threat in Bluff’s History

Map showing the Bluff area, proposed oil wells, and lands SITLA hopes to acquire for industrialization.

Map showing the Bluff area, proposed oil wells, and lands SITLA hopes to acquire for industrialization.

Friends of Cedar Mesa has learned that Bluff and the surrounding cultural landscape now face the largest threat in the area’s history. A new oil well is permitted to be drilled just two miles north of Bluff on Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) property. Two more oil wells are being planned on BLM land near Bluff. All three wells are proposed by EOG Resources, based out of Houston Texas. All the wells are inside the area proposed for National Monument protection by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

These first wells to be drilled near Bluff in many years are the opening salvo in a plan by SITLA to industrialize a large 15,000 acre oil field on the Bluff Bench.

Many archaeological sites, like this one, are within the area SITLA wants excluded from the Monument for industrialization.

Many archaeological sites, like this one, are within the area that SITLA wants excluded from the Monument for industrialization.

If SITLA has its way, the areas surrounding Bluff to the North and East would be left out of a Bears Ears National Monument and the Federal government would give Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands to SITLA for the oil field in exchange for other lands within the Monument. In essence, SITLA is hoping to leverage a National Monument to industrialize the Bluff area, which would threaten Bluff’s water supply, visitor-based economy, and potential to continue as the Gateway to Bears Ears. Also at risk are sensitive archaeological sites, recreation assets, world-class scenery and dark skies.

It’s important to note that a Monument designation would not stop the planned wells, which would be considered “valid existing rights” because they are occurring on existing leases (mostly from the Bush Administration era).  However, new leasing for oil and gas would not be allowed in the Monument.

Bluff Community Rallies in Support of Bears Ears Monument

The scenic Chimney Rocks area, where one well is planned, contains fragile hoodoos, similar to those found in Goblin Valley.

The scenic Chimney Rocks area, where one well is planned, contains fragile hoodoos, similar to those found in Goblin Valley.

The Bluff community has been quietly supportive of National Monument protection and was the site of the peaceful public meeting in July with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. However, this new threat has united the community to be vocal. The elected Bluff Service Area Board of Trustees voted to send a letter to Sally Jewell supporting protections for the Bluff area in a National Monument and opposing land trades to SITLA that would facilitate industrialization. Out of concerns for Bluff’s tourism economy, the Business Owners of Bluff, which represents commercial enterprises in town, also sent a letter to the Secretary supporting Monument boundaries that protect Bluff and opposing SITLA’s plans. The Bluff Water Works, which supplies culinary water to the town, sent a letter to SITLA opposing the industrialization plans that could easily contaminate Bluff’s water supply.

FCM Executive Director Josh Ewing and Bluff business leader Steve Simpson traveled to Washington D.C. last week to deliver these letters and a report with 7 reasons to protect the Gateway to Bears Ears to officials in the Obama Administration.

The big question is whether or not the Obama Administration will listen to local input in support of protecting Bluff in the Monument or if Utah’s anti-federal government political establishment will get its way, destroy the Gateway to Bears Ears, and leave fragile archaeology at risk.

What you can do

Bluff Locals: We encourage Bluff residents to write to Secretary Sally Jewell a personal, heartfelt, hand-signed letter explaining why it’s so important that she and President Obama listen to local input and include the Bluff area in the Bears Ears National Monument. Because time is so short for this critical decision to be made, we’ll need to hand deliver these letters. So, if you’re willing, please write your letter and drop it off at the FCM office (300 East Main Street in Bluff) by Friday, November 11th. Make sure to include your Bluff address on the letter.

Everyone else:

  • Make sure you’ve signed the petition in support of the Bears Ears National Monument.
  • Consider commenting to the BLM about the planned oil wells near Bluff. Comments are due November 11th. You can read some detail about the project and make comments here.

Sending comments to the BLM

The two planned wells on BLM land on the Bluff Bench are in the scoping phase of developing an Environmental Assessment (EA). The company EOG Resources has requested two Applications for a Permit to Drill (APD) on land that was leased years ago. It is important to comment during the scoping phase because you can help identify issues to be addressed in the draft EA. When you comment, here are some helpful things to keep in mind:

  • It’s not helpful to just tell the BLM not to drill here. Although we would have fought these leases had our organization existed back in 2006 when they were issued, they are legitimate leases.
  • Do raise concerns you have about well locations and impacts to be considered. It’s highly likely these wells could have impacts on cultural resources (creating and expanding roads), Bluff’s water supply (both would drill through the town’s aquifer), unique geological hoodoos, scenic values (both wells are in beautiful places used locally for recreation), and night sky impacts.
  • Given these issues, the BLM should take utmost care to pick well locations very carefully and require the operator to adhere to strict stipulations to protect cultural resources, air and water quality, and night skies.

Hiring Visit with Respect Program Manager

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Hiring Visit with Respect Program Manager

Now Hiring: Visit with Respect Program Manager


About FCM

Friends of Cedar Mesa (FCM) is a conservation organization in Bluff, Utah founded in 2010. FCM envisions a future where the public lands in San Juan County – with all their natural, cultural and recreational values – are protected and respected. To achieve this goal, we work to educate visitors about respectful recreation, monitor cultural sites, effect change through research and service projects, improve land management policies, and engage citizens in advocacy.



The Visit with Respect (VWR) Program Manager will have the overall responsibility of launching and expanding the on-the-ground Visit with Respect Ambassador Initiative and overseeing all aspects of educational programming. They will spend their time in the field as a VWR Ambassador and training new VWR Ambassador volunteers to engage with the public about protecting cultural and natural resources. The VWR Program Manager will spend up to 50% of his/her time outdoors in the field during spring and fall and significant time outdoors in all seasons. They will report to the Assistant Director.

FCM has entered into a partnership through an Assistance Agreement with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Monticello Field Office. This position will help carry out the goals of the Assistance Agreement. The efforts of the VWR Program will advance public resource management objectives primarily in the BLM’s Cedar Mesa and Comb Ridge area, with small amounts of work on public lands managed by other agencies (under separate agreements).



  • Launch the Visit with Respect Ambassador program in the spring of 2017
  • Develop the VWR Ambassador volunteer training program in coordination with BLM
  • Coordinate closely with BLM representatives to learn and help implement management goals and determine geographic locations for the VWR Ambassador program
  • Grow number of VWR Ambassador volunteers annually
  • Travel by foot and car to key archaeological sites to share friendly VWR information with visitors
  • Work to enhance and refine VWR messaging, presentations and materials
  • Organize and deliver presentations to diverse audiences including students, tourism outlets and avocational groups throughout the Four Corners about visiting with respect.


Additional Responsibilities

  • Work with staff to organize annual Celebrate Cedar Mesa event in spring
  • Assist other staff members in organizing service projects
  • Oversee data management of volunteers
  • Help with administrative tasks as needed.


Required Qualifications

The VWR Program Manager will be thoroughly committed to BLM’s and FCM’s mission and their professional development. All candidates should have proven education, outreach, and relationship management experience. Concrete demonstrable experience and other qualifications include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in education and/or natural resource management and experience working with diverse groups in an outdoor setting.
  • Strong verbal communication experience, especially in public speaking, with the ability to engage a wide range of stakeholders and cultures; excellent interpersonal skills are a must. The candidate should possess what we call the “human interaction gene” and be an outgoing, extraverted person.
  • Strong awareness and cultural sensitivity regarding Native American connections to cultural resources.
  • Competent hiking skills and the desire to be outdoors for extended periods of time in all seasons.
  • An action-oriented work ethic that is adaptive and quick to find solutions; brings an innovative approach to nonprofit work; the ability to work both independently (in front and backcountry) and collaboratively with diverse groups of people is essential.
  • Must have ability to wear “multiple hats” working in a small non-profit and pitch in where needed.
  • Must be willing to live or relocate to within 45 minutes of Bluff, UT, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with limited amenities and the best backyard in the world.
  • Lots of driving, including 4WD, required. Must have valid driver’s license and skills or willingness to learn 4-wheel driving.

Preferred qualifications

2 or more years of professional experience in an educational or outdoor-related field; knowledge of Four Corners archaeology, track record of effectively developing outreach, volunteer and educational programming; experience working with or for government land management agencies is a plus. 

A high level of competency in Microsoft Office products with knowledge of the Adobe Cloud Suite a plus.



$34,000 – $36,000 including basic health care insurance.


To apply: 

Please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Amanda. Position open until filled.

Comb Ridge: A Piece Lost Forever

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Comb Ridge: A Piece Lost Forever

Conservation community mourns privatization of parcel of Comb Ridge

jay-for-sale-signFriends of Cedar Mesa is deeply disappointed to announce that a 391-acre section of the Comb Ridge west of Bluff has been privatized. At an auction in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, October 19th, Lyman Family Farms purchased this scenic parcel of the Comb Ridge north of UT Highway 163 from the Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The buyer paid $500,000 outbidding conservation interests.

The sale is a distressing loss for the countless locals, returning visitors, and Native communities bearing cultural connections to the Comb Ridge.

With this purchase, this frequently visited section of the Comb may be closed to public access. We are currently unaware of the development intentions of the buyer. It is now the only privatized section of the 80-mile sandstone spine north of the Navajo Nation.

This parcel was featured as the cover of the first ever National Geographic Adventure magazine.

This parcel was featured as the cover of the first ever National Geographic Adventure magazine.

We are also concerned about the sensitive Archaic, Puebloan and Navajo archaeology on the parcel, which the buyer is responsible for protecting under the sale covenant.

When the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation nominated this parcel for auction earlier this year, they opened up Pandora’s Box and as a result, the land was sold to the highest bidder. The results show what happens when lands that should be public are not protected for future generations.

A loss of this nature emphasizes just how much work we have to do to protect public lands in Bears Ears. Our work isn’t done: SITLA is on Bluff’s doorstep as we speak, proposing land trades that would result in a massive energy block just north of Bluff within the proposed Bears Ears boundary.

Now more than ever, we ask you to stay in touch and see how you can help protect the invaluable cultural and natural resources in southeast Utah.


With regret,

FCM Staff

Site Steward Report shows path for BLM Statewide Initiative

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Site Steward Report shows path for BLM Statewide Initiative

Many of us were saddened to hear of the incident of recent vandalism by college students at a popular site on Comb Ridge. This unfortunate incident, which was reported by a member of the public, certainly highlights the value of having eyes on the ground to help monitor cultural resources. Earlier this year, Friends of Cedar Mesa entered into a partnership with BLM Utah to develop and expand the Utah Statewide Site Steward Program – and we feel this collaboration could not have come at a more necessary time.

Friends of Cedar Mesa and BLM Utah have begun to move forward with this partnership to develop a Statewide Site Steward Program.  To kickstart the process, we contacted existing Site Stewardship Programs from the Four Corners Region, had conversations with hundreds of people, and asked folks to participate in a survey about what works and what doesn’t work in existing site steward programs.  This is part of the initial Information Gathering and Data Collection phase of the five-year development plan for the statewide program.

When asked about electronic reporting, about 99% of volunteers were comfortable with it if trained.

When asked about electronic reporting, about 99% of volunteers were comfortable with it if trained.

In addition to our conversations, we had 120 survey respondents divided between Site Stewards, Site Steward Regional Coordinators, and Professional Archaeologists.  The findings from these surveys and conversations are synthesized in a report, Site Stewards Speak. Some common threads in the survey were that everyone would like an easy to use electronic app to monitor their sites. Survey results also showed a strong interest in more non-traditional models of site stewardship.

One of our biggest takeaways from the surveys and conversations is that we will be developing three types of program models to fit under the broader statewide program. Those three types of programs are the typical one steward/one site model, having a group of volunteers monitor an area, and a “Site Steward Lite” model much like the Petroglyph Patrol.  By offering more options for volunteers, we can engage a broad diversity of the public in stewardship opportunities.  Utah is fortunate to have a breath-taking landscape filled with cultural resources that attract people from around the globe, and the need to have more eyes on the ground to watch for looting, vandalism, and natural changes to a site is important in the protection of these non-renewable cultural resources.  This most recent incident of vandalism in Southeast Utah serves as a perfect example of this need.

Friends of Cedar Mesa will be moving forward with the development of statewide site steward training manuals and a user-friendly app, which will benefit stewards, coordinators, agency archaeologists and other partner organizations across the Four Corners. This process is only beginning so in the meantime, we encourage you to stay tuned and read our report.

Comb Ridge Sale Update & Action Alert

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Comb Ridge Sale Update & Action Alert
Locals display signs politely asking the Foundation and SITLA not to privatize the Comb Ridge.

Locals display signs politely asking the Foundation and SITLA not to privatize the Comb Ridge.

Friends of Cedar Mesa has been working to find a collaborative, win-win solution that would permanently preserve public access to a key square mile of the Comb Ridge near Bluff. This parcel of state trust land has been nominated by the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation (HIRF) for inclusion in a Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) auction scheduled for October. FCM approached both SITLA and HIRF with an offer to help facilitate a negotiated conservation easement, which would accomplish all of the following:

  • Preserve public access in perpetuity;
  • Reduce the Foundation’s costs in purchasing the property (30-50% of the property value would have been covered by the conservation easement agreement);
  • Ensure the Foundation the ability to preserve that section of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail while carrying out activities to educate people about the heroic Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition and the lessons to be learned from that story of faith and perseverance;
  • Allow the Foundation reasonable but limited development of the parcel as the Foundation has suggested it might want (e.g. restroom facilities, gathering spots, storage, etc);
  • Demonstrate and maintain positive working relationships between the Foundation, the residents of Bluff and visitors from around the region that have used this property for decades as if it were public land.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement limiting certain development activities on a piece of private property in perpetuity. Conservation easements are great tools for promoting conservation of natural resource and public access on private land while providing certainty and property rights to the land owner. Each conservation agreement is negotiated under unique terms but they result in specific development rights being precluded on the property and frequently have provisions for public access.

For the Comb Ridge parcel in question, a conservation easement would be a positive because it could allow the buyer to build minimal facilities but assure the public that the land will not ever be developed in a way that alters the land and its resources.  

This solution is a classic compromise where everyone gives up something. The Foundation would give up some development rights in exchange for permanently allowing public access and limiting their future development. Conservationists would give up the dream of this land being true public land for future generations. However, the practical result would be a win-win compromise where pretty much everyone gets what they need on the ground.

Unfortunately, both SITLA and the HIRF have so far rejected consideration of this solution as an alternative to an auction where the property is sold to the highest bidder.

That’s where you come in. Can you write an email to the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation and urge them reconsider this win-win solution? Over 300 of you have already written to SITLA and that’s fallen on deaf ears. So let’s try a new approach. In your email to the Foundation, please be extremely courteous and emphasize how destructive to positive relationships a winner-takes-all approach will be compared with a positive, proactive solution. We know many of you don’t like the idea of this land being privatized at all, and expressing that is fine. But please express your support for a compromise solution via a conservation easement. Feel free to remind the Foundation that many people from all walks of life share deep connections to this section of the Comb Ridge, especially for all the pre-history it houses, regardless of their religious beliefs. Please do not write if you have an ax to grind or are only talking generally about the Comb Ridge and do not have experience with this specific property (see aerial map of the location or watch our video about the issue for details).

Please use the below form to send your email.