Former Utah Diné Bikéyah staffer gets management spot at Bears Ears Monument … by Bill Keshlear

Note: This story is reprinted with permission from Bill Keshlear and “Bears Ears Divide.” It first appeared HERE.

Jake Palma joined the Bureau of Land Management as an intern in Nevada after leaving Utah Diné Bikéyah in 2015. (American Conservation Experience)
Jake Palma joined the Bureau of Land Management as an intern in Nevada after leaving Utah Diné Bikéyah in 2015. (American Conservation Experience)

(The following has been updated to include comments of Rep. Phil Lyman, R-District 73.  Also, in a recorded phone conversation Juan Palma indicates that “nobody’s going to get arrested, and nobody’s going to do that kind of stuff …” in connection with the 2014 protest up Recapture Canyon. The original blog post used the word “prosecution.” )

Jake Palma, a former staffer at the tribal activist group Utah Diné Bikéyah, has been named manager of Bears Ears National Monument, according to minutes of a Bureau of Land Management Resources Advisory Council meeting held in Kanab in June.

Palma’s promotion puts him in charge of day-in, day-out management of President Trump’s version of the monument, which is currently being challenged in federal court by his former employer and others in an attempt to restore the version he worked to create in 2015.

“Jake Palma’s experience in planning, National Environmental Policy Act compliance, and consensus building made him an excellent candidate for the Bears Ears Monument Manager position,” said Gary Torres, acting Canyon Country District manager, in an email statement. “We are grateful to have him as a part of the team.”

Palma’s first day in office was July 22. He works out of BLM’s Monticello Field Office.

Torres said the “BLM and the public are already benefiting from his excellent work and commitment to the BLM’s multiple-use mission.” An agency communication specialist, Rachel Wootten, could not identify those benefits.

I asked why a formal announcement of Palma’s promotion had not been announced to a wider audience, possibly in San Juan County rather than in Kanab. “The BLM does formally announce staff level appointments, however, we continue to introduce Jake to stakeholders and the general public as opportunities arise.”

Apparently, “opportunities” arose last week when members of the Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee (MAC) realized they had been left out of the loop and asked Torres why. His letter came a day after Torres submitted his formal response to questions I asked on Friday.  This is what he sent to members yesterday.

Minutes of the meeting indicate the announcement was made two weeks after the MAC met in June. However, members of that committee were not informed by BLM then.

Palma’s promotion came two months after composition of the Committee was roundly criticized by monument advocates and allied environmentalists, including Utah Diné Bikéyah, Palma’s former employer.

“The BLM does not seem interested in implementing the Native American foundation of the Bears Ears National Monument. This Advisory Committee lacks Native wisdom, lacks support from sovereign Tribes, and fails to reflect the local community that most depends on protection of these lands.”

David Filred, board chairman, Utah Diné Bikéyah.

The June notice was part of an update about Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument management plans from Abbie Josie, deputy director of Utah BLM.

Two of the severest critics of monument designation – Phil Lyman, state House representative for San Juan County and other parts of southern Utah, and Bruce Adams, San Juan County commissioner – have so far been publicly silent. 

Palma’s appointment by President Trump’s BLM raises questions because of its high-profile, controversial nature and his relative lack of experience within the agency. He leapfrogged other careerists climbing the federal government’s General Schedule (GS) pay-scale ladder.

Juan Palma left Utah BLM to become CEO of HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors) then director of the Nevada Nature Conservancy. He's pictured at an event announcing a land swap just outside of Las Vegas in 2016. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Juan Palma left Utah BLM to become CEO of HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors) then director of the Nevada Nature Conservancy. He’s pictured at an event announcing a land swap just outside of Las Vegas in 2016. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Jake Palma is the son of former state BLM Director and environmentalist Juan Palma, who ran Utah BLM while Jake was at Utah Diné Bikéyah and completing a master’s degree in recreation resource management at Utah State University. A 2015 profile of Jake published by an internship program called American Conservation Experience said he helped the “Forest Service understand Hispanic recreation patterns and behaviors in the Central Wasatch Mountains around the Salt Lake metropolitan area. Jake also has spent the past 8 months working with a nonprofit organization (Utah Diné Bikéyah) that seeks to bring Native American values to public land management decisions in Southeast Utah.”

Juan Palma played a role in the prosecution of Phil Lyman, then county commissioner, after a 2014 protest in Recapture Canyon, just outside of Blanding. Yet in this extraordinary conversation, Palma assured Lyman he would not be arrested for his participation in the protest.

Nevertheless, Lyman was arrested, prosecuted and convicted.

(Credit: Monte Wells)

Lyman has been a prominent critic of Bears Ears National Monument. In an email, I asked him to clarify a few things. Here are his verbatim responses sent on Nov. 28.


I am sorry I did not see this email sooner. I just found it this morning.  Here are some short responses.

*Did you or any public official in San Juan County, especially those critical of Obama’s BENM, play any role in Palma’s appointment?Are you supportive of it as representative of San Juan County?

I had no role in choosing his appointment, but Lance Porter did. Lance hates me and would do anything to frustrate me and those who tell the truth in San Juan County. In that light, it makes complete sense to appoint Jake Palma. I was hyper critical of Jake and his dad back in 2015 2016 and the conflict of interest his dad was in in regard to Bears Ears. This is deep state operations at their core. When flexing your deep state muscle, the more unethical the action the greater the effect on people of goodwill.

*The minutes of RAC meeting indicate that the announcement was made two weeks after the Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee met. However, members of that committee were not informed. Why do you think they were left out of the loop? 

When I saw the announcement, I assumed that the committee would have been fully aware and that they were the ones that chose to keep it discrete. It is odd that they are now the ones pointing fingers. I am not sure I believe that they were oblivious to this. Had I been on the committee, and learned what I learned through ordinary means, I would have been very vocal about it. When I learned of his appointment, I sent a ling to Monte Wells and we both concluded that this was just one more in a long string of unethical moves related to bears ears – all intended to frustrate.

*Please comment on the appropriateness of appointing a former Utah Dine Bikeyah staffer to the position. As you know, perhaps better than anybody, UDB has been at the forefront of an effort that led to creation of President Obama’s version of the national monument as well as litigation to undo President Trump’s version.

Same pattern that had been well established by the past administration. The timing was weird with Brian Steed having recently left BLM and all. Steed had greatly disappointed with his refusal to handle Recapture, Dan Love, etc. It really was no surprise to see Jake appointed. If they could have found someone more offensive to the people of San Juan County, they would have picked that person. Maybe Rose Chilcoat had already refused the position.

*I pressed BLM on Mr. Palma’s background and relatively limited experience within the agency, but got nowhere. Why do you think Palma got the promotion and not someone with management experience at a higher GS level?

Same answer. That said, I don’t know Jake personally.

*The politics of this can be interpreted several ways (and they might not be mutually exclusive). One way: The environmental community has been extremely critical of the composition of Bears Ears Advisory Committee. Was this a way to mend fences? Did Trump’s Interior Department cave? If so, how will supporters of Trump’s version of the monument respond?

he problem is not Jake Palma. The problem is a system that treats Utah and other western states as second class citizens. The more we protest, the more harm the BLM will do to us. When you talk to people in Blanding, you are talking to people who have lost loved ones to the corrupt BLM. We are the point of the spear where, after destroying or businesses and denigrating our community, they raided our homes and stripped searched our daughters. What did Orin Hatch do? Nothing. What did Governor Herbert do? He hired Larry Echohawk to be his advisor. What did the media do? They piled on (yourself included to some extent). How is it that now that our enemies have won the war and appointed one of their own to rule over us, they (you) are now asking how did I let this happen? I appreciate your change of heart in relation to this matter, but those of us who have been paying attention for the past 13 years are not oblivious to those who helped fan the flames. Contrary to popular belief, the people of Blanding are not spiteful, ignorant, or uninformed. I get frustrated when locals engage in this weird Stockholm syndrome approach to the Federal Government, but I have watched it happen over and over. They are “scared to death” as Dustin Felstead said, and some of them would rather cooperate with the BLM than fight them. I am not one of those. I have told them that my only purpose for being in public office is to let people know that if they deal with the BLM they are dealing with liars that will hurt them.

*You’ve been a long-time supporter of local control of government. This decision was made without any local input as far as I can tell, in fact in secrecy. Care to comment?

Par for the course. The time to get involved was in 2007, then again in 2009, then again in 2010, than again in 2011, then again in 2014. Where were you? Where was Jami? The bears ears opposition was impressive, but we would not have had a bears ears thing going on if people had stood up to the BLM when they illegally and maliciously went after Dr. Redd. It was Lynell Shalk, former BLM investigator that started spreading the lies. Actually it started with Cal Black and Ed Abbey and has been going ever since. In fact is probably started with the strong Mormon-hating crap that has been flowing out of Durango for the last 135 years. There are those who comment on it and there are those who experience it. Those who experience it should not then deny their own experience simply to gain false favor with the Trib et. al. Whether I support local government or not should not be the question. The fact is that we live in the United States, where the constitution is the Law, and States are sovereign. The BLM is the symbolic contradiction to that form of government. Anyone who does not see that as a problem, is the problem. 

Please don’t interpret my candor as personally directed at you. Your willingness to speak the truth is refreshing.

The promotion of Palma into a monument management spot further cements the political and land-management influence of Utah Diné Bikéyah in San Juan County: the organization and its allies played key roles in the the Nov. 5 special election that killed an initiative they believed could eventually oust newly elected county commissioners Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy, who had been longtime board members of Utah Diné Bikéyah. The ballot question asked voters to weigh in on the possibility of forming a panel to study a change in how the county works.

Jake Palma worked for Utah Diné Bikéyah in April 2015 when he participated in a tour of Bears Ears country with UDB board members and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service. This photo was part of a blog published by a funder of UDB, the outdoor recreation corporation Patagonia, called "The Cleanest Line." (Screen grab)
Jake Palma worked for Utah Diné Bikéyah in April 2015 when he participated in a tour of Bears Ears country with UDB board members and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service. This photo was part of a blog published by a funder of UDB, the outdoor recreation corporation Patagonia, called “The Cleanest Line.” (Screen grab)

It’s hard to overestimate the influence UDB and its national allies have had in advocating for Native American interests connected with use and management of public lands in southeastern Utah. They’ve succeeded in a way that took results of a presidential election and proclamation to derail.

The advocacy organization based in Salt Lake City has a staff of eight or so and an estimated 50 volunteers, according its latest Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service. It has assumed a visible lead in the national initiative to create Bears Ears National Monument.

Part of that success is directly attributable to its ability to tap funding sources outside of San Juan County and even Utah.

The organization had revenues of $1,281,371 in 2017 — all but $45,847 came from grants and contributions. Total revenue since UDB began reporting to the IRS beginning in 2014 is $2,656,931.

Its executive director, Gavin Noyes, made $96,922; total salaries were $310,282.

UDB spent $142,538, or almost $12,000 per month, on travel; $287,433 on advertising and promotion; and $23,508 attending conferences.

Over the years environmental groups — national and regional conservation organizations — tried to get their massive America’s Red Rock Wilderness off the ground. Various iterations of it have been introduced since 1989.

Thousands of dollars down the drain. In 2012, a 1.4 million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument was proposed. It would’ve encircled Canyonlands National Park.

Same result. A bold idea couldn’t overcome Republican opposition and the caution of President Obama’s first Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who insisted on consensus among ever-feuding factions before going forward.

Native American spiritual and cultural sensibilities never figured prominently in any of those proposals. So Kenneth Maryboy, his brother, Mark, Grayeyes and others launched a parallel initiative, mustering in 2010 after an invitation from former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah). The group morphed into Utah Diné Bikéyah.

Its first proposal was Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area in 2013 and then Bears Ears National Monument. UDB found itself at the epicenter of a campaign that not only focused on public-land use but preservation of American Indian culture along with its spiritual underpinnings.

UDB and its allies give voice to a historically marginalized group of Americans. Ironically, voices of hundreds of Utah Navajos unaffiliated with the nonprofits have been muted in the multimillion-dollar, multiyear national political campaign conducted ostensibly on their behalf to create what is becoming less a sacred sanctuary to protect artifacts of indigenous peoples than a playground for tourists, rock climbers, mountain bikers and ATV riders.

If that’s BLM’s interpretation of its “multiple-use” congressional mandate on how to manage public lands, it aligns closely with Palma’s career trajectory.

(Keshlear is a regular contributor to the Canyon Country Zephyr.)

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1 comment for “Former Utah Diné Bikéyah staffer gets management spot at Bears Ears Monument … by Bill Keshlear

  1. December 13, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    […] member of the Dine’ (Navajo) nation is a chief administrator for the Bears Ears National Monum…t and what the Dine’ considers part of their ancestral […]

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