A Proclamation on #BearsEars National Monument — @POTUS

From Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Here’s the proclamation from the White House:

President Barack Obama’s establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument in Proclamation 9558 of December 28, 2016, represented the culmination of more than a century of efforts to protect the ancestral homeland of Tribal Nations that all refer to the area by the same name — Hoon’Naqvut (Hopi), Shash Jaa’ (Navajo), Kwiyagatu Nukavachi (Ute), and Ansh An Lashokdiwe (Zuni): Bears Ears. Preserving the sacred landscape and unique cultural resources in the Bears Ears region was an impetus for passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. As early as 1904, advocates for protection of cultural landscapes described for the Congress the tragedy of the destruction of objects of historic and scientific interest across the American Southwest and identified the Bears Ears region as one of seven areas in need of immediate protection. Nevertheless, for more than 100 years, indigenous people, historians, conservationists, scientists, archaeologists, and other groups advocated unsuccessfully for protection of the Bears Ears landscape. It was not until the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni united in a common vision to protect these sacred lands and requested permanent protection from President Obama that Bears Ears National Monument became a reality. Few national monuments more clearly meet the Antiquities Act’s criteria for protection than the Bears Ears Buttes and surrounding areas. This proclamation confirms, restores, and supplements the boundaries and protections provided by Proclamation 9558, including the continued reservation of land added to the monument by Proclamation 9681 of December 4, 2017.

As Proclamation 9558 recognizes, the greater Bears Ears landscape, characterized by deep sandstone canyons, broad desert mesas, towering monoliths, forested mountaintops dotted with lush meadows, and the striking Bears Ears Buttes, has supported indigenous people of the Southwest from time immemorial and continues to be sacred land to the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni. Approximately two dozen other Tribal Nations and Pueblos have cultural ties to the area as well.

Describing as much as 13,000 years of human occupation of the Bears Ears landscape, Proclamation 9558 contextualizes the compelling need to protect one of the most extraordinary cultural landscapes in the United States. The proclamation describes the landscape’s unique density of significant cultural, historical, and archaeological artifacts spanning thousands of years, including remains of single family homes, ancient cliff dwellings, large villages, granaries, kivas, towers, ceremonial sites, prehistoric steps cut into cliff faces, and a prehistoric road system that connected the people of Bears Ears to each other and possibly beyond. Proclamation 9558 also describes the cultural significance and importance of the area, exemplified by the petroglyphs, pictographs, and recent rock writings left by the indigenous people that have inhabited the area since time immemorial.

In addition to cultural and historic sites, Proclamation 9558 describes the Bears Ears landscape’s unique geology, biology, ecology, paleontology, and topography. The proclamation identifies geologic formations rich with fossils that provide a rare and relatively complete picture of the paleoenvironment, striking landscapes, unique landforms, and rare and important plant and animal species. While not objects of historic and scientific interest designated for protection, the proclamation also describes other resources in the area, historic grazing, and world class outdoor recreation opportunities — including rock climbing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and horseback riding — that support a booming travel and tourism sector that is a source of economic opportunity for local communities.

To protect this singular and sacred landscape, President Obama reserved approximately 1.35 million acres through Proclamation 9558 as the smallest area compatible with protection of the objects identified within the boundaries of the monument. He also established the Bears Ears Commission to ensure that management of the monument would be guided by, and benefit from, expertise of Tribal Nations and traditional and historical knowledge of the area.

On December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Proclamation 9681 to reduce the lands within the monument by more than 1.1 million acres. In doing so, Proclamation 9681 removes protection from objects of historic and scientific interest across the Bears Ears landscape, including some objects that Proclamation 9558 specifically identifies by name for protection. Multiple parties challenged Proclamation 9681 in Federal court, asserting that it exceeds the President’s authority under the Antiquities Act.

Restoring the Bears Ears National Monument honors the special relationship between the Federal Government and Tribal Nations, correcting the exclusion of lands and resources profoundly sacred to Tribal Nations, and ensuring the long-term protection of, and respect for, this remarkable and revered region. Given the unique nature and cultural significance of the objects identified across the Bears Ears landscape, the threat of damage and destruction to those objects, their spiritual, cultural, and historical significance to Tribal Nations, and the insufficiency of the protections afforded in the absence of Antiquities Act protections, the reservation described below is the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic and scientific interest named in this proclamation and Proclamation 9558.

Proposed Bears Ears National Monument July 2016 via Elizabeth Shogren.

he Bears Ears landscape — bordered by the Colorado River to the west, the San Juan River and the Navajo Nation to the south, low bluffs and high mesas to the east and north, and Canyonlands National Park to the northwest, and brimming with towering sandstone spires, serpentine canyons, awe-inspiring natural bridges and arches, as well as the famous twin Bears Ears Buttes standing sentinel over the sacred region — is not just a series of isolated objects, but is, itself, an object of historic and scientific interest requiring protection under the Antiquities Act. Bears Ears is sacred land of spiritual significance, a historic homeland, and a place of belonging for indigenous people from the Southwest. Bears Ears is a living, breathing landscape, that — owing to the area’s arid environment and overall remoteness, as well as the building techniques that its inhabitants employed — retains remarkable and spiritually significant evidence of indigenous use and habitation since time immemorial, including from the Paleoindian Period, through the time of the Basketmakers and Ancestral Pueblos, to the more recent Navajo and Ute period, and continuing to this day. There are innumerable objects of historic or scientific interest within this extraordinary landscape. Some of the objects are also sacred to Tribal Nations, are sensitive, rare, or vulnerable to vandalism and theft, or are dangerous to visit and, therefore, revealing their specific names and locations could pose a danger to the objects or the public. The variety, density, and prevalence of these objects, such as prehistoric roads, structures, shrines, ceremonial sites, graves, pots, baskets, tools, petroglyphs, pictographs, and items of clothing, all contribute to the uniqueness of this region and underscore its sacred nature and living spiritual significance to indigenous people.

Many of the Tribal Nations that trace their ancestral origin to this area and continue their spiritual practices on these lands today view Bears Ears as a part of the personal identity of their members and as a cultural living space — a landscape where their traditions began, where their ancestors engaged in and handed down cultural practices, and where they developed and refined complex protocols for caring for the land. The Bears Ears region is also a tangible location that is integral to indigenous ceremonial practices, cultural traditions, and the sustainment of the daily lives of indigenous peoples. Since time immemorial, the lands of the Bears Ears region have fostered indigenous identity and spirituality. Indigenous people lived, hunted, gathered, prayed, and built homes in the Bears Ears region. As a result, each geographic subregion and the mountains, canyons, mesa tops, ridges, rivers, and streams therein that make up the Bears Ears landscape hold cultural significance. These individual locales come together as objects of historic and scientific interest — many of which have spiritual significance to indigenous people and are located across this living landscape ‑- to tell stories, facilitate the practice of traditions, and serve as a mnemonic device that elders use to teach younger generations where they came from, who they are, and how to live. Resources found throughout the Bears Ears region, including wildlife and plants that are native to the region, continue to serve integral roles in the development and practice of indigenous ceremonial and cultural lifeways. From family gatherings, dances, and ceremonies held on these sacred lands, to gathering roots, berries, firewood, piñon nuts, weaving materials, and medicines across the region, Bears Ears remains an essential landscape that members of Tribal Nations regularly visit to heal, practice their spirituality, pray, rejuvenate, and connect with their history.

From Hole in The Rock looking South East across the Colorado River in Glen Canyon at Mile 84.4. By Ken Bertossi – Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection GRCA 117031, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86669734

The Bears Ears region is also important to, and shows recent evidence of, non-Native migrants to the area. From the smoothed-over surfaces of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail to the historic cattle-ranching cabins, and the convoluted series of passages and hideouts used by men like Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other members of the Wild Bunch on the Outlaw Trail, including Hideout Canyon, the Bears Ears landscape conveys the story of westward expansion of European Americans and the settlement of Latter-day Saint communities in southern Utah. Hispanic sheep herders from New Mexico also migrated into this area during the late 1800s, and many of their descendants continue to live in local communities.

Despite millennia of human habitation, the Bears Ears landscape remains one of the most ecologically intact and least‑roaded regions in the contiguous United States. As a result, the area continues to provide habitat to a variety of threatened, endangered, sensitive, endemic, or otherwise rare species of wildlife, fish, and plants. The area also contains a diverse array of species that benefit from the preservation of the landscape’s intact ecosystems.

Skull of Ophiacodon navajovicus as preserved in bone bed. Photo credit: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The Bears Ears landscape also tells the stories of epochs past. The area’s exposed geologic formations provide a continuous record of vertebrate life in North America as well as a rich history of invertebrate fossils. The Chinle Formation, and the Wingate, Kayenta, and Navajo Formations above it, demonstrate how the Triassic Period transitioned into the Jurassic Period and provide critical insight into both how dinosaurs dominated terrestrial ecosystems and how our mammalian ancestors evolved. The discovery of several taxa, including a prosauropod that gets its name from a Navajo word tied to the region where it was found, the archosauromorph Crosbysaurus harrisae, and a unique phytosaur, have occurred exclusively within Bears Ears or have significantly extended an extinct species’ known range. While paleontologists have only recently begun to systematically survey and study much of the fossil record in this region, experts are confident that scientifically important paleontological resources remain to be discovered, and future exploration will greatly expand our understanding of prehistoric life on the Colorado Plateau.

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

The landscape itself is composed of several areas, each of which is unique and an object of scientific and historic interest requiring protection under the Antiquities Act. Near the center is the Bears Ears Buttes and Headwaters, the location of the iconic twin buttes, which soar over the surrounding landscape and maintain watch over the ancestral home of numerous Tribal Nations. Containing dense fir and aspen forests that provide firewood to heat homes as well as powerful medicines and habitat for wild game species, Tribal Nations view the high elevation oasis as the key to life in the Bears Ears region. The Bears Ears Buttes also hold historical significance to the Navajo people, as the landscape and natural cliff dwellings served as hiding places to escape the United States military during the forced Long Walk, where more than 11,000 Navajo were marched up to 450 miles on foot to internment camps in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Many Navajo hid in the remote canyons to avoid the forced removal from their traditional homelands in the Southwest by the United States from 1864 to 1868.

Indian Creek, Utah. Photo credit: Andrew Burr

In the northern part of the Bears Ears landscape lies Indian Creek, the home of a world-renowned canyon characterized by sheer red cliffs and spires of exposed and eroded layers of Navajo, Kayenta, Wingate, and Cedar Mesa Sandstone, including the iconic North and South Six-Shooter Peaks. The canyon includes famous vertical cracks striating its sandstone walls and the area provides important habitat for a multitude of plant and animal species. Indian Creek’s palisades provide eyries for peregrine falcons and potential nesting sites for bald and golden eagles, and the Lockhart Basin area and Donnelly Canyon contain Mexican spotted owl habitat. The Indian Creek area further provides critical winter grounds for big-game species such as mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep and potential habitat for endangered fish and threatened plant species. The prominent Bridger Jack and Lavender Mesas are home to largely unaltered relict plant communities composed of pinyon-juniper woodlands interspersed with small sagebrush islands. It is also in Indian Creek that one can find Newspaper Rock, a massive petroglyph panel displaying a notable concentration of rock writings from persons of the Basketmaker and Ancestral Pueblo periods, the Ute and Navajo people who still live in the Four Corners area and beyond, and early settlers of European descent. Indian Creek also contains possible evidence of trade with cultures extending into Mesoamerica, including a thousand-year-old ornamental sash found in the area made from azure and scarlet macaw feathers as well as a petroglyph featuring a macaw-like bird figure. Shay Canyon is a side canyon that houses extensive, well-preserved petroglyph panels from multiple prehistoric periods. The panels contain a unique rock writing style that is believed to be both Freemont and Ancestral Pueblo in origin. Harts Point is an escarpment that provides spectacular views of the Indian Creek Canyon. These mesa tops also contain evidence of historic connections of indigenous people to the region. Additionally, Indian Creek provides fossilized trackways of early tetrapods and fossilized traces of marine and aquatic creatures such as clams, crayfish, fish, and aquatic reptiles dating to the Triassic Period.

Ancestral Puebloan ruin in Dark Canyon Wilderness. By Brian Murdock, Moab/Monticello Ranger District, USFS – Wilderness.net – http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=enlargeAndDetails&id=1866, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3504281

Southwest of Indian Creek and geographically nestled between the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Dark Canyon Wilderness area, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, lie Beef Basin and Fable Valley, areas characterized by well-preserved Ancestral Pueblo surface sites ‑- including freestanding Pueblo masonry structures and towers — as well as petroglyphs and pictographs. The areas are unique in their high concentration of large, mesa-top Pueblo structures. Sites in this region may also provide evidence of some of the furthest north migration of Pueblo in the Mesa Verde region.

The Abajo Mountains near Monticello. By The original uploader was SyzygyMan at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Davemeistermoab., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4538727

Just south of Indian Creek, the westernmost edge of the Abajo Mountains forms the eastern boundary of the Bears Ears landscape. An island laccolith series of peaks and domes known also as the Blue Mountains due to the appearance of their heavily forested slopes contrasted against the red desert that surrounds them, the Abajo Mountains are rich in wildlife and home to several rare and sensitive plant species. As a result of the breadth of species, the Abajo Mountains have long been a traditional hunting ground for the indigenous people that have lived in the area and are held sacred by a number of Tribal Nations, including the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribes. These peaks represent the highest elevations in the Bears Ears landscape and provide unbroken views of the entire region.

Beef Basin Wash Cliff Dwellings OHV Trail – Utah. Photo credit: AllTrails

South of Beef Basin and Indian Creek, the landscape contains a number of sandstone canyons that drain the northern edge of the Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge, including the Tuerto, Trough, Ruin, and North Cottonwood Canyons, at the bottom of which runs a perennial creek. Ancestral Pueblo sites within this area have special significance to the Pueblos of New Mexico, who identify these sites as part of their ancestral footprints that extend their traditional territory north of the Abajo Mountains. The area, which is composed of both Cedar Mesa Sandstone and Chinle Formation deposits, has a very high potential for Permian and Triassic fossils.

Gambel oak photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

The South Cottonwood Canyon region, characterized by prominent sandstone escarpments surrounded by forests of pinyon, juniper, and Gambel oak, interspersed with stands of ponderosa pine and mixed conifers, is situated west of the Abajo Mountains and south of the prominent sandstone towers known as the Chippean Rocks. The isolated area contains intact cultural landscapes of early Ancestral Pueblo communities. Some sites are organized as a larger central village surrounded by smaller family-sized dwellings, while others are large and inaccessible granaries. This region is home to a diversity of wildlife, including Townsend’s big-eared bats, beavers, and ringtail cats, as well as the Cliff Dwellers Pasture Research Natural Area, an ungrazed box canyon with a unique vegetative community and an imposing sandstone arch and natural bridge. The area also contains excellent big game habitat and is considered prime mule deer, elk, and black bear hunting grounds.

Further west, South Cottonwood Canyon is home to a unique density of Pueblo I to early Pueblo II village sites that are considered important to both archaeologists and Tribal Nations. One site, a collapsed two-story block masonry structure that appears to be an early version of a great house, was built during a time when the development of this kind of community structure was only beginning in Chaco Canyon. More recently, the South Cottonwood Canyon area proved critical to the survival of the White Mesa Ute during Anglo settlement of southern Utah. Paleontologically, there is high potential fossil yield on both the west side of the area, which contains portions of the Triassic Period Chinle and Moenkopi Formations, and the east side, which is composed of Jurassic Period Glen Canyon Group Kayenta Formation. The area also provides critical habitat for Mexican spotted owls, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and spotted bats.

The Dark Canyon, Dry Mesa complex, located between Beef Basin and White Canyon, is wild and remote. In Dark Canyon — a canyon system that includes Peavine, Woodenshoe, and other minor tributaries — rock walls, which tower 3,000 feet above the canyon floor, provide a sense of solitude and isolation from the surrounding mesa tops. The canyon system, one of the only entirely intact and protected canyons from its headwaters on the Colorado Plateau to its confluence with the Colorado River, includes numerous hanging gardens, springs, and riparian areas and provides habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including known populations of Mexican spotted owl. Dry Mesa is relatively flat with stands of ponderosa pine, oak, and pinyon and juniper that provide foraging habitat for golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Many Tribal Nations have strong connections to sites in the area from three specific time periods: ancient hunter-gatherers during the Archaic period, Ancestral Pueblos during the Pueblo III period, and finally, Navajo, Ute, and Paiute families just before and during European migration into the Four Corners area. Visitors to the Dark Canyon Wilderness area will find the Doll House, a fully-intact and well-preserved single-room granary. Located at the bottom of Horse Pasture Canyon and Dark Canyon, visitors will also find Scorup Cabin, a line cabin originally built in Rig Canyon and later moved to its current location, that cowboys used as a summer camp while running cattle in the area. The area also contains exposures of Permian Period Cutler Group deposits that have a high potential to contain both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils.

Utah’s White Canyon. Photo credit: SUWA

Utah’s White Canyon makes a gorgeous, serpentine cut through Cedar Mesa, near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. But it remains unprotected.
It lies at the heart of the proposed Glen Canyon Wilderness, where the vast expanse of Paleozoic-era sandstone known as Nokai Dome eases its way to the upper reaches of Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This region also includes the soaring Wingate Cliffs of the Red Rock Plateau, Mancos Mesa, Moqui Canyon with its meandering stream, Red Canyon, and the serpentine side canyons of White Canyon. This is one of the most remote regions of the state, but it lacks protection and is threatened by increasing ORV use.

It is all part of the San Juan-Canyonlands region of Southeastern Utah, one of the most iconic landscapes recommended for protection in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, boasting dramatic geologic features wrought by elemental forces, as well as internationally significant cultural sites of the Ancestral Puebloans and the Mormon Pioneers. Adorned with buttes and arches, vast stretches of slickrock deposited over 250 million years ago, ancient pinyon-juniper forests and an artist’s pallet of red-hued sandstone, the San Juan-Canyonlands region has inspired explorers since the days of John Wesley Powell, and its wonders represent some of the greatest unprotected wilderness in the country.[/caption]

The White Canyon region, west of Dark Canyon, is a remote area featuring an extensive complex of steep and narrow canyons cut through light-colored Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Once used by outlaws to evade authorities, the area’s slot canyons, including the Black Hole, Fry Canyon, and Cheesebox Canyon, now draw adventurers in search of multi-day, technical canyoneering opportunities. The entire White Canyon area has a rich paleontological history. Research in the area is ongoing, but recent discoveries of track sites in the Triassic Moenkopi Formation and an assemblage of invertebrate burrows suggest that a diverse fauna once thrived here. Mollusks, phytosaurs, and possible theropod and ornithischian fossils have also been found in White Canyon.

Elk Ridge, Utah. Photo credit: Tim Peterson via the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition

Located between the Abajo Mountains and the Colorado River, the high plateau of Elk Ridge provides stunning views of the surrounding canyons and the Bears Ears Buttes to the south. Visitors passing through the Notch, a naturally occurring narrow pass between north and south Elk Ridge, are treated to spectacular vistas of Dark Canyon to the west and Notch Canyon to the east. The area’s higher elevations, which contain pockets of ancient Engelmann spruce, rare stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, aspen, and subalpine fir, and a genetically distinct population of Kachina daisy, provide welcome respite from the higher temperatures found in the region’s lower elevations, especially during the summer. There is evidence that indigenous people have hunted and gathered plants on Elk Ridge for at least 8,000 years, a practice that continues today and is considered sacred by the Navajo Nation. Elk Ridge also has a long history of livestock grazing by Navajo and Ute families and later Anglo settlers. While the mesa top is primarily dry, water naturally occurs at the area’s seeps and springs, as well as the ephemeral Duck Lake, a seasonal wetland located on top of Elk Ridge that results from snowmelt. The upper reaches of the ridge also contain Upper Triassic formations with a high potential to contain fossils.

Texas Canyon, Utah, looking southeast towards Arch Canyon and Comb Wash. G. Thomas at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

To the east of Elk Ridge lies a major system of canyons on National Forest System lands, including Hammond Canyon, Upper Arch Canyon, Texas Canyon, and Notch Canyon. This deeply incised canyon system is composed of stunning red sandstone walls, white pinnacles, lush green foliage, and several small waterfalls. Uniquely, the area also contains large sandstone towers and hoodoos in a forested setting. The Hammond Canyon area, which is central to the history of the White Mesa Utes, contains numerous Ancestral Pueblo sites, including cliff dwellings. Hammond Canyon also contains an Ancestral Pueblo village with structures and pottery from multiple Ancestral Pueblo periods. High fossil potential exists in both the Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic Glen Canyon Sandstone of Hammond Canyon’s lower half as well as the Permian Period Cedar Mesa Sandstone found in its upper half.

Ange Arch. This arch is located in Arch Canyon off Utah Rt. 95, the Bi-Centennial Highway. The opening has a height of 110 ft. and a span of 40 feet. Photo by Dr. Allen Crockett

Just south of Elk Ridge, Arch Canyon is a 12-mile long box canyon containing numerous arches, including Cathedral Arch, Angel Arch, and Keystone Arch. The area is teeming with fossilized remains, including numerous specimens from the Permian and Upper Permian eras. Cliff dwellings and hanging gardens are located throughout the canyon. Arch Canyon Great House, which spans the Pueblo II and III periods and contains pictographs and petroglyphs ranging from the Archaic to the historic periods, is located at the canyon’s mouth. A perennial stream that provides potential habitat for sensitive fish species and for the threatened Navajo sedge is located in the canyon’s bottom.

Mule Canyon. Photo credit: Utah.com

Mule Canyon, a 500-foot deep, 5-mile long chasm, is situated northeast of the Fish Creek area and southeast of the Bears Ears Buttes. Throughout the canyon, cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites are sheltered by rock walls composed of alternating layers of red and white sandstone. Among those are the stunning House on Fire, which has different masonry styles that indicate several episodes of construction and use. The area’s rich archaeological history is also evidenced on the nearby tablelands, where the Mule Canyon Village site allows visitors to view the exposed masonry walls of ancient living quarters and a partially restored kiva. Recent research suggests that Ancestral Pueblos in this area may have cultivated a variety of plants that are uncommon across the wider landscape and persist to this day, such as the Four Corners potato, goosefoot, wolfberry, and sumac. Although similar cultivation may have been occurring near Ancestral Pueblo sites across the Bears Ears landscape, it appears to have been particularly prevalent in and around the Mule, South Cottonwood, Dry, Arch, and Owl Canyons.

Bluff UT – aerial with San Juan River and Comb Ridge. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6995171

Tilted at almost 20 degrees and running along a north-south axis from the foothills of the Abajo Mountains, past the San Juan River, and onto the Navajo Nation, the serrated cliffs of the Comb Ridge monocline are visible from space and have both spiritual and practical significance to many Tribal Nations. It is in this area that one can find a series of alcoves in Whiskers Draw that have sheltered evidence of human habitation for thousands of years, including the site where Richard Wetherill first identified what we know today as the Basketmaker people, as well as Milk Ranch Point, where early Ancestral Pueblo farmers found refuge when the climate turned hotter and dryer at lower elevations. Comb Ridge, flanked on the west by Comb Wash and on the east by Butler Wash, holds additional evidence of centuries of human habitation, including cliff dwellings, such as the well-known Butler Wash Village and Monarch Cave, kivas, ceremonial sites, and rock writings, like the Procession Panel, Wolfman Panel, and Lower Butler Wash Panel, a wall-sized mural depicting San Juan Anthropomorph figures dating to the Basketmaker period that is considered important for understanding the daily life and rituals of the Basketmaker people. Chacoan roads as well as the handholds and steps carved into cliff faces found in this area formed part of the region’s migration system and are integral to the story of the Bears Ears landscape. The Comb Ridge area also contains a rich paleontological history, including an Upper Triassic microvertebrate site with greater taxonomic diversity than any other published site of the same nature in Utah, and the earliest recorded instance of a giant arthropod trackway in Utah. Paleontologists have also found phytosaur and dinosaur fossils from the Triassic Period and have identified new species of plant-eating crocodile-like reptiles and rich bonebeds of lumbering sauropods in the area.

Jackson Stairway. Photo credit: NPS.com

South Cottonwood Wash is an extensive drainage just east of Comb Ridge that extends from the Abajo Mountains to the San Juan River near Bluff, Utah. The drainage contains at least three great houses as well as a number of alcove sites, and it has a high density of petroglyphs and pictographs, including a cave with more than 200 handprints in a variety of colors. There is also evidence of a Chacoan road that connected multiple great houses and kiva sites. These prehistoric transportation systems in the Bears Ears region are critical to understanding the trading patterns, economy, and social organization of ancient Pueblo communities and the other major cultural centers with whom they interacted, such as Chaco Canyon.

Late afternoon light flows across the desert in Valley of the Gods, near Bluff, Utah. By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA – Valley of the GodsUploaded by PDTillman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19730031

At the far southern end of the Bears Ears landscape lies Valley of the Gods, a broad expanse of sandstone monoliths, pinnacles, and other geological features of historic and scientific interest. Towering spires of red sandstone that rise from the valley floor are held sacred by the Navajo people, who view the formations as ancient warriors frozen in stone and places of power in which spirits reside. The austere valley, which is noteworthy in both its geology and ecology, provides habitat for Eucosma navajoensis, an endemic moth that lives nowhere else. The Mars-like landscape also contains evidence of our own planet’s distant past, including early tetrapod trackways, Paleozoic freshwater sharks, ray-finned fishes, lobe-finned fishes, giant primitive amphibians, and multiple unique taxa of mammal-like reptiles. Paleontologists have also uncovered notable plant macrofossils including ancestral conifers, giant horsetail-like plants, ferns the size of trees, and lycopsids (similar to modern clubmoss).

Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The San Juan River forms the southern boundary of the Bears Ears landscape. One of the four sacred rivers that Tribal Nations believe were established by the gods to act as defensive guardians over their ancestral lands, the river is closely tied to traditional stories of creation, danger, protection, and healing. The Lime Ridge Clovis site demonstrates that the history of human occupation within the river corridor dates back at least 13,000 years. The Sand Island Petroglyph Panel presents petroglyphs primarily from the Basketmaker through the Pueblo III periods as well as more modern Navajo and Ute carvings. There are also a number of Ancestral Pueblo structures that are accessible by river, such as River House. Nearby San Juan Hill was the last major obstacle for the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition and presents visible evidence of the weary expedition’s effort to cross Comb Ridge, including parts of a road, wagon ruts, and an inscription at the top of the ridge. The river corridor also contains a number of unique geologic formations, such as the well-known balancing rock at Mexican Hat, and provides important habitat for the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The river itself is home to two endangered fish species: Colorado pikeminnow, the largest minnow in North America, which is believed to have evolved more than 3 million years ago, and the razorback sucker, the only member of its genus.

Cedar Mesa. Photo credit: Utah.com

Cedar Mesa is located in the heart of the Bears Ears landscape, west of Comb Ridge and north of the San Juan River. Ranging from approximately 4,000 to 6,500 feet in elevation, the approximately 400-square mile plateau is of deep significance to Tribal Nations. Characterized by pinyon-juniper forests on the mesa tops and canyons along its periphery, the entirety of Cedar Mesa is an object of scientific and historic interest, providing a broader context for the individual resources found there. It is the density of world-class cultural resources found throughout the remote, sloping plateau and its numerous canyons that make Cedar Mesa truly unique. For example, an open-twined yucca fiber sandal believed to be more than 7,000 years old was discovered in a dry shelter located in a narrow slickrock canyon in Cedar Mesa. Moon House is an example of iconic Pueblo-decorated architecture and was likely the last occupied site on Cedar Mesa. On the top of the plateau, Chacoan roads connect several Ancestral Pueblo great houses that show architectural influence from the Chaco Canyon region as well as ceramics that demonstrate both historic and modern Pueblo connections. And in the heart of Cedar Mesa, a multi-room, multi-story great house contains kivas with distinctive Chacoan features that are much larger than kivas found elsewhere on Cedar Mesa. Today, Cedar Mesa is home to bighorn sheep, but fossil evidence in the area’s sandstone has revealed large, mammal-like reptiles that burrowed into the sand to survive the blistering heat of the end of the Permian Period, when the region was dominated by a seaside desert. Later, during the Upper Triassic Period, seasonal monsoons flooded an ancient river system that fed a vast desert here. Salvation Knoll, a point from which lost Latter-day Saint pioneers were able to obtain their bearings on Christmas Day in 1879, is also located in the area.

Cedar Mesa is striated with deep chasms housing remarkably intact Ancestral Pueblo sites. John’s Canyon and Slickhorn Canyon, which empty into the San Juan River in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the south, contain numerous petroglyphs, pictographs, and Ancestral Pueblo structures built into elongated alcoves on buff-colored cliffs. Similarly, the canyons on the east side of Cedar Mesa hold a significant density of archaeological sites providing a glimpse into the region’s past, including rock writings and Ancestral Pueblo dwellings. The Citadel cliff dwelling is just one example of the striking Ancestral Pueblo sites located in Road Canyon, while other sites include painted handprints and evidence of daily life left by Ancestral Pueblos. Located to the north of Road Canyon, the Fish Canyon area contains a number of Pueblo structures. The Fish Canyon area also contains one of the few perennial streams in the area and an important potential habitat for the Mexican spotted owl. Finally, the rust-colored, 145‑foot span of Nevills Arch awaits those who make the challenging trek down Owl Canyon. Opening to a height of 80 feet and named after Norman Nevills, the first boatman to take paying customers on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, the arch creates a striking window to the sky on the upper reaches of the canyon walls.

Upper Grand Gulch. Photo credit: ClimbUtah.com

Grand Gulch, a mostly dry canyon that meanders for nearly 50 miles on the western edge of Cedar Mesa and is replete with thousands of cliff dwellings and rock writing sites, likely contains the highest concentration of Ancestral Pueblo sites on the Colorado Plateau. Initially occupied in the Basketmaker II and III periods, Grand Gulch’s initial inhabitants left pictographs and constructed shallow pithouses and camps on the mesa top and dry shelters for storage. One pictograph dating from this time period depicting two large, anthropomorphic figures is of special religious significance to Tribal Nations. Grand Gulch also contains a multitude of Pueblo II to III sites and was one of the first prehistoric national historic districts designated on the National Register of Historic Places. The area contains the Turkey Pen site, which is believed to provide some of the earliest evidence of turkey domestication in North America, a pristine kiva in a remote canyon bend, and countless other unique Pueblo structures, such as Junction Village, a large Pueblo habitation site; Split Level Village, a multi-level Pueblo habitation; and Bannister House, a habitation consisting of two relatively intact structures and a spring at the base of the cliff face. Grand Gulch also contains unique artifacts, such as a tattoo needle, a site containing a multichromatic pictograph of a mask, important historic archaeological inscriptions from the Wetherill expedition, and a multitude of other rock writings.

Kane Gulch is a tributary canyon of Grand Gulch incised through Cedar Mesa Sandstone and clogged with house-sized boulders. The canyon houses an aspen grove — an uncommon occurrence at such elevations in the desert — and contains a number of archaeological sites that are perched on canyon walls high above cottonwood trees that provide welcomed shade to the riparian areas in the canyon bottom. Nearby, Bullet Canyon, which intersects with the upper reaches of Grand Gulch, also holds numerous structures, petroglyphs, pictographs, and other artifacts, such as the well-preserved Perfect Kiva — a partly restored kiva, accompanied by several rooms and other smaller structures.

The Red Cliffs area. Photo credit: G. Scott Hansen

To the west of Cedar Mesa, the Clay Hills, Red House Cliffs, and Mike’s Canyon form the southwest corner of the Bears Ears landscape. This remote and rarely visited area remains largely unstudied by scientists. Tool- and arrowhead-making sites, dwellings, and granaries in the lower reaches of the canyons indicate that they sustained Archaic, Basketmaker, and Ancestral Pueblo cultures. The area’s unforgiving topography, composed of expansive stretches of slickrock periodically interrupted by deep canyons, challenged Latter-day Saint settlers that traveled along the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail and left wheel ruts and other traces of pioneer life. The harsh ecosystem still supports a herd of desert bighorn sheep throughout the year, and in the canyon bottoms, including Mike’s Canyon, intrepid beavers can be found in small areas of riparian habitat. The Clay Hills area contains the first discovery of vertebrate fossils from the Bears Ears region, which was also the first occurrence of a phytosaur identified in Utah.

White Canyon is a canyon in San Juan County, Utah notable for Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and slot canyons. It is spanned by Sipapu Bridge, one of the largest natural bridges in the world.
The canyon begins in the foothills of the Abajo Mountains and passes through Natural Bridges National Monument before emptying into Lake Powell or, if lake levels are low, the Dirty Devil River. Utah State Route 95 parallels the inner gorge of the canyon for much of its length.
One particularly deep and narrow section of White Canyon is known as the Black Hole. The walls in this permanently flooded 500-foot (150 m) long section are only a few feet (about 1 m) apart in some places. Canyoneers sometimes wear wetsuits to guard against hypothermia while traversing this section. The danger of flash flooding is very high due to the canyon’s large drainage basin. A 16-year-old girl drowned in a flash flood while hiking in the Black Hole area in September 1996. Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Standing alone west of Cedar Mesa and adjacent to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Mancos Mesa is likely the largest isolated slickrock mesa in southern Utah. Covering approximately 180 square miles, Mancos Mesa’s roughly triangular shape is bounded by towering cliffs, some reaching more than 1,000 feet high. The entire area is dominated by Navajo Sandstone and is incised with canyons, including Moqui Canyon, a 20-mile canyon with sheer walls rising over 600 feet. The mesa, an ecological island in the sky, contains a relict plant community that supports Native perennial grasses, shrubs, and some cacti. Mancos Mesa also contains archaeological remains dating back 2,000 years and spanning across the Basketmaker II and III and Pueblo I, II, and III periods.

Protection of the Bears Ears area will preserve its spiritual, cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy and maintain its diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of this area remain for the benefit of all Americans. For more than 100 years, and sometimes predating the enactment of the Antiquities Act, Presidents, Members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, Tribal Nations, State and local governments, scientists, and local conservationists have understood and championed the need to protect the Bears Ears area. The area contains numerous objects of historic and scientific interest and also includes other resources that contribute to the social and economic well-being of the area’s modern communities as a result of world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, including unparalleled rock climbing available at places like the canyons in Indian Creek; the paradise for hikers, birders, and horseback riders provided in areas like the canyons east of Elk Ridge; and other destinations for hunting, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking, that are important to the increasing travel- and tourism-based economy in the region.

WHEREAS, section 320301 of title 54, United States Code (known as the “Antiquities Act”), authorizes the President, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments, and to reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected; and

WHEREAS, Proclamation 9558 of December 28, 2016, designated the Bears Ears National Monument in the State of Utah and reserved approximately 1.35 million acres of Federal lands as the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic and scientific interest declared part of the monument; and

WHEREAS, Proclamation 9681 of December 4, 2017, modified the management direction of the Bears Ears National Monument and modified the boundaries to add approximately 11,200 new acres of Federal lands, and the objects of historic and scientific interest contained therein, and to exclude more than 1.1 million acres of Federal lands from the reservation, including lands containing objects of historic and scientific interest identified as needing protection in Proclamation 9558, such as Valley of the Gods, Hideout Canyon, portions of the San Juan River and Abajo Mountains, genetically distinct populations of Kachina daisy, and the Eucosma navajoensis moth; and

WHEREAS, December 4, 2017, was the first time that a President asserted that the Antiquities Act included the authority to reduce the boundaries of a national monument or remove objects from protection under the Antiquities Act since passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.); and

WHEREAS, the entire Bears Ears landscape is profoundly sacred to sovereign Tribal Nations and indigenous people of the southwest region of the United States; and

WHEREAS, I find that the unique nature of the Bears Ears landscape, and the collection of objects and resources therein, make the entire landscape within the boundaries reserved by this proclamation an object of historic and scientific interest in need of protection under 54 U.S.C. 320301; and

WHEREAS, I find that all the historic and scientific resources identified above and in Proclamation 9558 are objects of historic or scientific interest in need of protection under 54 U.S.C. 320301; and

WHEREAS, I find that there are threats to the objects identified in this proclamation; and

WHEREAS, I find, in the absence of a reservation under the Antiquities Act, the objects identified in this proclamation and in Proclamation 9558 are not adequately protected by otherwise applicable law or administrative designations because neither provide Federal agencies with the specific mandate to ensure proper care and management of the objects, nor do they withdraw the lands from the operation of the public land, mining, and mineral leasing laws; thus a national monument reservation is necessary to protect the objects of historic and scientific interest in the Bears Ears region for current and future generations; and

WHEREAS, I find that the boundaries of the monument reserved by this proclamation represent the smallest area compatible with the protection of the objects of scientific or historic interest as required by the Antiquities Act; and

WHEREAS, it is in the public interest to ensure the preservation, restoration, and protection of the objects of scientific and historic interest on the Bears Ears region, including the entire monument landscape, reserved within the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, as established by this proclamation;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 320301 of title 54, United States Code, hereby proclaim the objects identified above and in Proclamation 9558 that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be the Bears Ears National Monument (monument) and, for the purpose of protecting those objects, reserve as part thereof all lands and interests in lands not currently reserved as part of a monument reservation and that are owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation. These reserved Federal lands and interests in lands consist of those lands reserved as part of the Bears Ears National Monument as of December 3, 2017, and the approximately 11,200 acres added by Proclamation 9681, encompassing approximately 1.36 million acres. As a result of the distribution of the objects across the Bears Ears landscape, and additionally and independently, because the landscape itself is an object in need of protection, the boundaries described on the accompanying map are confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of historic or scientific interest identified above and in Proclamation 9558.

All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of the monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, or other disposition under the public land laws or laws applicable to the United States Forest Service (USFS), from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing, other than by exchange that furthers the protective purposes of the monument.

This proclamation is subject to valid existing rights. If the Federal Government subsequently acquires any lands or interests in lands not currently owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, such lands and interests in lands shall be reserved as a part of the monument, and objects identified above that are situated upon those lands and interests in lands shall be part of the monument, upon acquisition of ownership or control by the Federal Government.

The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior (Secretaries) shall manage the monument through the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), respectively, in accordance with the terms, conditions, and management direction provided by this proclamation and, unless otherwise specifically provided herein, those provided by Proclamation 9558, the latter of which are incorporated herein by reference. The USFS shall manage that portion of the monument within the boundaries of the National Forest System (NFS), and the BLM shall manage the remainder of the monument. The lands administered by the USFS shall be managed as part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The lands administered by the BLM shall be managed as a unit of the National Landscape Conservation System. To the extent any provision of Proclamation 9681 is inconsistent with this proclamation or Proclamation 9558, the terms of this proclamation and Proclamation 9558 shall govern. To further the orderly management of monument lands, the monument will be jointly managed as a single unit consisting of the entire 1.36 million-acre monument.

For purposes of protecting and restoring the objects identified above and in Proclamation 9558, the Secretaries shall jointly prepare and maintain a new management plan for the entire monument and shall promulgate such regulations for its management as they deem appropriate. The Secretaries, through the USFS and BLM, shall consult with other Federal land management agencies or agency components in the local area, including the National Park Service, in developing the management plan. In promulgating any management rules and regulations governing the NFS lands within the monument and developing the management plan, the Secretary of Agriculture, through the USFS, shall consult with the Secretary of the Interior, through the BLM. The Secretaries shall provide for maximum public involvement in the development of that plan, including consultation with federally recognized Tribes and State and local governments. In the development and implementation of the management plan, the Secretaries shall maximize opportunities, pursuant to applicable legal authorities, for shared resources, operational efficiency, and cooperation.

In recognition of the importance of knowledge of Tribal Nations about these lands and objects and participation in the care and management of the objects identified above, and to ensure that management decisions affecting the monument reflect expertise and traditional and historical knowledge of Tribal Nations, a Bears Ears Commission (Commission) is reestablished in accordance with the terms, conditions, and obligations set forth in Proclamation 9558 to provide guidance and recommendations on the development and implementation of management plans and on management of the entire monument.

To further the protective purposes of the monument, the Secretary of the Interior shall explore entering into a memorandum of understanding with the State of Utah that would set forth terms, pursuant to applicable laws and regulations, for an exchange of land owned by the State of Utah and administered by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration within the boundary of the monument for land of approximately equal value managed by the BLM outside the boundary of the monument. Consolidation of lands within the monument boundary through exchange in this manner provides for the orderly management of public lands and is in the public interest.

The Secretaries shall manage livestock grazing as authorized under existing permits or leases, and subject to appropriate terms and conditions in accordance with existing laws and regulations, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above and in Proclamation 9558. Should grazing permits or leases be voluntarily relinquished by existing holders, the Secretaries shall retire from livestock grazing the lands covered by such permits or leases pursuant to the processes of applicable law. Forage shall not be reallocated for livestock grazing purposes unless the Secretaries specifically find that such reallocation will advance the purposes of this proclamation and Proclamation 9558.

Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to revoke any existing withdrawal, reservation, or appropriation; however, the monument shall be the dominant reservation.

Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of the monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof.

If any provision of this proclamation, including its application to a particular parcel of land, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this proclamation and its application to other parcels of land shall not be affected thereby.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.


Elephant Butte Irrigation District officials, farmers testify during virtual #Texas v. #NewMexico #water trial — New Mexico Political Report #RioGrande

Downstream of Elephant Butte Dam, water issues get even trickier. Photo credit: Laura Paskus

From New Mexico Political Report (Hannah Grover):

Groundwater provides an important source of irrigation for farmers in southern New Mexico, but Texas alleges that New Mexico’s use of groundwater below Elephant Butte reservoir has reduced surface water in the Rio Grande that is available for farmers downstream.

Texas filed a lawsuit in 2013 before the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexico has violated the Rio Grande Compact. This week, special master Judge Michael Melloy heard witness testimony and opening arguments during the first week of a virtual trial. Melloy is tasked with compiling a report for the U.S. Supreme Court. The virtual section of the trial will be followed by an in-person section in the spring in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in March.

The United States has intervened in the case, arguing that New Mexico has failed to administer the groundwater use and that failure threatens not only the compact but also the 1906 treaty agreement with Mexico. This treaty requires the United States to provide Mexico with up to 60,000 acre-feet of water annually. The amount of water that Mexico receives can be reduced due to drought conditions and, when this occurs, the reductions must be proportional to reductions to water allocations for the two irrigation districts that use Rio Grande project water.

While Texas says groundwater pumping has hurt deliveries of Rio Grande project water to El Paso County Water Improvement District Number 1 (EP1), New Mexico claims a 2008 operating agreement that shifted some of the surface water to Texas has led farmers to rely more on groundwater.

New Mexico argues that the operating agreement led to farmers receiving less Rio Grande project water, however it allowed farmers to use groundwater. The two water districts agreed to this operating agreement as a way to address drought conditions, but neither Texas nor New Mexico were parties to the agreement.

Elephant Butte Irrigation District Vice President Robert Sloan said that the operating agreement is one of the factors that has made him more dependent on groundwater at his farm located south of Las Cruces. Sloan was on the EBID Board of Directors in 2008 and voted in favor of the operating agreement.

The Rio Grande project water is stored in two reservoirs in New Mexico—Elephant Butte and Caballo. Each year, based on the amount of water in storage, the allocations are made to the two irrigation districts. About 57 percent of the project water is allocated to EBID and 43 percent is allocated to EP1.

Groundwater pumping is not unique to New Mexico. There are also wells in Texas that impact the Rio Grande.

History of groundwater pumping

The Rio Grande project dates back to the 1930s. In the 1940s, a drought hit the region. EBID Treasurer and Manager Gary Esslinger told the court that this prompted farmers to drill groundwater wells. And, until 1980 when the state engineer closed the basin, Esslinger said property owners did not have to seek approval to drill a well. After the state engineer closed the basin, property owners had to get permission from the Office of the State Engineer prior to drilling a well.

Esslinger said in the 1940s farmers approached EBID about using groundwater to augment the surface water supplies. The U.S. Geological Survey was brought on board to study the impacts that this could have. While the study found there could be impacts to return flows and the amount of water in the drains–which take project water that seeps into the groundwater and return it to the river–the study did not address the impacts that these wells could have on deliveries of surface water to downstream users.

Now, as New Mexico is once again in a period of drought, groundwater provides a vital resource to farmers.

New Mexico farmers rely on groundwater

Sloan has about a dozen irrigation wells on his property. These wells were first drilled in the 1950s, however about six of them have had to be replaced since then. Sloan said when they replaced the wells they did drill deeper.

Prior to 2011, Sloan said farmers were able to pump as much as they needed. But then a court adjudication process resulted in a cap. This cap means that farmers can use four and a half acre feet of combined surface and groundwater. He explained that means that if he receives two acre feet of surface water then he can pump two and a half acre feet of groundwater. The wells have been metered since a 2006 order from the Office of the State Engineer. The OSE tracks the amount of water used and, if too much groundwater is pumped, the farmers receive a notice of over-diversion, Sloan said.

Sloan said farmers prefer the surface water because it is better quality as groundwater tends to have higher levels of salt, which can be detrimental to crops.

In the early 2000s, following 23 years of good water supplies, New Mexico entered into a drought that continues today. And, while farmers are hopeful that the drought will end soon, climate change is anticipated to lead to less water available.

“We are looking at a warmer, drier, more arid future where we will have to deal with less water, in fact we will have to deal with a lot less water,” said J. Phillip King, a consultant for EBID who has also been involved in the Interstate Stream Commission’s water planning.

This year, Sloan was allotted four inches of surface water, which was not enough to irrigate any of his crops. While he bought additional water from his neighbors, Sloan said he did have to rely on his groundwater wells to grow crops.

Groundwater salinity impacts Texas farmers

Further downstream, Art Ivey is a Texas farmer and board member of EP1. Like Sloan, Ivey grows pecans and uses both surface and groundwater. His original farm has seven wells on it and acreage he recently bought has two wells. Unlikely New Mexico, Ivey said Texas does not require farmers to meter their groundwater use.

Ivey said farmers prefer surface water because the groundwater has high salinity. If he was to only use groundwater, Ivey said it would be like “putting poison on our ground” and within a few years the plants would die.

He provided details about how he manages salinity on his farm, including trying to rebuild soil. This has included removing some clay and bringing in sand. Spraying sulfuric acid on the soil can also leach out salt, he said. However, Ivey said he no longer uses sulfuric acid because it is very dangerous. Gypsum and elemental sulfur can also be used and Ivey said he applies these soil amendments annually.

Ivey said when using well water he has to provide the trees with more water because of the salt levels.

Ivey was on the board of directors during the 2008 negotiations. He said the operating agreement included the ability to carry over water, which he described as “vitally important.” That means if the district does not use all the water it is allocated for one year, it can store the unused water for future use.

Ivey said this can allow the district to provide early season irrigation water.

Not all of the farmers in his valley have wells and, Ivey said, cotton farmers rely on early season water. He said cotton farmers need water in March and, this year, surface water was not available until June.

“If they don’t have wells, they don’t plant. And so they’ve lost a year of trying to grow a crop,” Ivey said.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

18 individual billion-dollar weather and #climate disasters identified during first nine months of 2021: Fifth-warmest September on record for the contiguous U.S. — NOAA

From NOAA:

For September, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 67.8°F, 3.0°F above the 20th-century average, the fifth-warmest September in the 127-year period of record. For the year-to-date, the contiguous U.S. temperature was 57.0°F, 1.9°F above the 20th-century average, ranking 10th warmest in the January-September record.

The September precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.33 inches, 0.16 inch below average, ranking in the middle one-third of the 127-year period of record. For the year-to-date, the national precipitation total was 23.58 inches, 0.38 inch above average, ranking in the middle one-third of the January-September record.

NCEI updated the 2021 billion-dollar weather and climate disaster dataset to include 10 additional events — five severe storm events, four tropical cyclone events and one wildfire event. This brings the year-to-date total to 18 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. and is four events shy of the 2020 record for the most disasters on record in a calendar year.

This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.


September Gridded Temperature Percentiles Map
September Gridded Precipitation Percentiles Map


  • September temperatures were above average from the West Coast to the Great Lakes and into New England. Colorado and Rhode Island ranked third warmest on record for the month while five additional states across the West and Northeast ranked in the top five for September.
  • Temperatures were near average across parts of the Northwest, Gulf Coast and Southeast.
  • Alaska had a statewide average temperature of 39.3°F, 1.3°F below the long-term average and ranking in the coolest one-third of the 97-year record. Temperatures were below average across much of the state with near-average temperatures dominating the North Slope and portions of the northern interior regions. Temperatures were above average across the Central Panhandle.


  • Precipitation was above average across portions of the Northwest, Southwest, northern and central Plains and from the central Gulf Coast to New England. A series of atmospheric river events during the second half of September contributed to the above-average precipitation received across the Northwest. Resulting primarily from precipitation received as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Pennsylvania had its seventh-wettest September while Massachusetts ranked eighth wettest. Precipitation was below average across much of the northern Rockies, Deep South and Midwest. Oklahoma had its ninth-driest September on record.
  • Alaska’s average of 4.36 inches of precipitation in September was 0.21 inch below average and ranked in the middle one-third of the 97-year record. Precipitation was above average across the North Slope and the South Panhandle regions and below average from Bristol Bay to the Northeast Gulf region.
  • According to the September 28 U.S. Drought Monitor report, approximately 47.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 1 percent from the end of August. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the Midwest and central Plains and rapidly developed across the southern Plains during the second half of September. Drought severity and/or coverage lessened across parts of the West, northern Plains and New England.


  • The western U.S. continues to battle an active fire season in 2021.
    • By the end of September, almost six million acres were consumed across the U.S.
    • This is approximately 500,000 acres less than the year-to-date 10-year (2011-2020) average.
    • The KNP Complex wildfires erupted in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California during September, threatening some of the oldest and largest sequoia trees in the world.
    • On September 21, the Wildfire Preparedness Level was reduced to PL4, indicating that officials expected fire activity and demand on resources to continue declining as the wildfire season begins to wane. By September 28, officials further reduced the Preparedness Level to PL3.
  • The Atlantic Basin hurricane season continued to be active with 20 named storms identified during the first nine months of 2021. In September alone, nine new named storms formed — Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa and Victor.
    • Remnants of Hurricane Ida combined with a frontal system and brought unprecedented rainfall to parts of the Northeast on September 1. Flash Flood Emergencies were declared for the first time on record across parts of New Jersey and New York. Flash flooding, strong tornadoes and many fatalities resulted.
    • Tropical Storm Mindy made landfall on St. Vincent Island, Florida, on September 8 and quickly moved across Georgia and into the Atlantic Ocean causing minimal damage.
    • Hurricane Nicholas made landfall near Sargent Beach, Texas, on September 14 and drifted slowly toward Louisiana over the next several days, bringing flooding rainfall to parts of the Gulf Coast already saturated from Hurricane Ida.
January-September Gridded Temperature Percentiles Map
January-September Gridded Precipitation Percentiles Map


  • Year-to-date temperatures were above average across the West, the northern and central Plains, Great Lakes, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and portions of the Southeast. Maine had its second-warmest January-September on record while California ranked third warmest. Temperatures were below average across parts of the Deep South.
  • Year-to-date temperatures averaged across Alaska were near normal. Above-average temperatures observed across the southwestern and northeastern portions of the state, while most of Alaska had near-average temperatures over the first nine months of 2021.


  • January-September precipitation was above average across portions of the Southwest and from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley and into the Northeast. Mississippi had its third-wettest year-to-date period while Louisiana ranked fourth wettest on record. Precipitation was below average from the West Coast to the northern Plains. Montana had its third-driest year-to-date on record, while North Dakota was fifth driest.
  • For Alaska as a whole, January-September precipitation was above average. Precipitation was average to below average from the Aleutians to the Northeast Gulf and above average across much of the remaining portions of the state.

Billion-dollar weater and climate disasters

A map of the United States plotted with 18 weather and climate disasters each costing $1 billion or more that occurred between January and September 30, 2021.
1980-2021 Billion Dollar Disaster Frequency Map
  • Through the end of September, 18 weather and climate disaster events have been identified with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. during 2021. These events include one drought/heat wave event, two flooding events, nine severe storm events, four tropical cyclone events, one wildfire event and one winter storm/cold wave event. This is four events shy of the 2020 annual record of 22 events.
  • The U.S. disaster costs for the first nine months of 2021 are $104.8 billion, already surpassing the disaster costs for all of 2020 ($100.2 billion, inflation-adjusted).
  • Through September, disasters in 2021 have also caused more than twice the number of fatalities than from all the events that occurred in 2020.
  • Hurricane Ida is the most costly disaster to-date in 2021 — exceeding $60 billion — and will be ranked among the top-five most costly hurricanes on record (since 1980) for the U.S. Ida’s total cost will likely increase further, which will be reflected in our end-of-year report.
  • Since records began in 1980, the U.S. has sustained 308 separate weather and climate disasters where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (based on the CPI adjustment to 2021) per event. The total cost of these 308 events exceeds $2.085 trillion. Disaster costs over the last five years (2017-2021) will exceed a record $700 billion, reflecting the increased exposure and vulnerability of the U.S. to extreme weather and climate events.

U.S. hit with 18 billion-dollar disasters so far this year: September 2021 was the 5th-warmest September on record — NOAA

Wildland firefighters apply structure wrap to the base of a giant sequoia tree to protect it from the KNP Complex Wildfire, September 17, 2021. Photo credit: Inciweb.org

From NOAA:

The United States saw an unprecedented 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the first nine months of the year, according to scientists with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information

Not only was September 2021 quite warm, but it also brought with it devastating impacts from four of the 18 disasters: flooding from Hurricane Ida, landfall of Hurricane Nicholas, and ongoing drought and wildfires tormenting communities in the West.

Below follow highlights from NOAA’s September U.S. climate report:

Climate by the numbers

September 2021

The average September temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 67.8 degrees F — 3.0 degrees above the 20th-century average — making it the fifth-warmest September in the 127-year climate record.

Colorado and Rhode Island had a September that ranked third warmest on record, while California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming logged a top-five warmest September.

The average precipitation last month was 2.33 inches (0.16 of an inch below average), which ranked in the middle third of the climate record.

Some extremes included Oklahoma, which had its ninth-driest September, as well as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, which saw their seventh- and eighth-wettest Septembers on record respectively, due to the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

Year to date | January through September 2021

The year-to-date average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 57.0 degrees F — 1.9 degrees above average — making it the 10th-warmest YTD on record. Maine had its second-warmest YTD, while California ranked third warmest on record.

Looking at the year so far, the average precipitation total was 23.58 inches (0.38 of an inch above average) and ranked in the middle third of the record.

Mississippi had its third-wettest YTD while Louisiana saw its fourth wettest. Meanwhile, Montana had its third-driest YTD on record, while North Dakota saw its fifth driest.

A map of the United States plotted with 18 weather and climate disasters each costing $1 billion or more that occurred between January and September 30, 2021.

Billion-dollar disasters to date

From January through the end of September, the U.S. has experienced 18 weather and climate disasters each incurring losses that exceeded $1 billion. These disasters included: nine severe storms, four tropical cyclones, two flooding events, one combined drought and heat wave, one wildfire, and one combined winter storm and cold wave.

The loss of human life from these disasters is staggering: 538 people died, which is more than twice the number of deaths from all billion-dollar disasters that occurred in 2020.

Total losses due to property and infrastructure damage is up to $104.8 billion so far — eclipsing $100.2 billion incurred last year (adjusted for 2021 inflation).

The first nine months of 2021 have tallied the largest number of disasters in a calendar year so far, with 2021 currently placing second behind 2020.

This is also a record seventh-consecutive year where the U.S. experienced 10 or more billion-dollar disasters.

A map of the United States plotted with significant climate events that occurred during September 2021. Please see article text below as well as the full climate report highlights at http://bit.ly/USClimate202109.

More notable takeaways from the report

  • Ida leads the year’s most expensive disasters: To date, Hurricane Ida is the costliest disaster this year — exceeding $60 billion. Ida already ranks among the top-five most costly hurricanes on record for the U.S. since 1980, and its total cost will likely increase as damage costs continue to accumulate.
  • Another active year for the tropics: The 2021 Atlantic Basin hurricane season has seen 20 named storms as of the end of September. In September alone, nine new named storms formed — Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa and Victor.
  • Wildfires in the West showed no signs of slowing: By the end of September, nearly six million acres were consumed by wildfires across the U.S. The KNP Complex wildfires erupted in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California, threatening some of the oldest and largest giant sequoia trees in the world.