Native Sun News: BLM to update plan for land near Bear Butte

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

A biker rides near Bear Butte, a place of worship and celebration of Native American ceremonies. Photo by Talli Nauman

Tribes have last chance to protest BLM Impact Statement
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

Tribes, among others taking part in the Resource Management Plan revision for Bureau of Land Management public properties and mineral rights in South Dakota, have until June 29 to protest the federal government’s proposed Final Environmental Impact Statement, the BLM announced in the Federal Register.

The first revision of the plan in 27 years, the process was spurred by a nationwide initiative to protect the sage grouse and its habitat, it said. However, it has come to address concerns about protecting water from uranium mining, gas and oil development, and sacred sites, especially Bear Butte.

Under the proposal, the 6,693-acre Fort Meade Recreation Area between Bear Butte and Sturgis would remain a Special Recreation Management Area, with motorized travel limited to existing roads and trails.

BLM’s South Dakota Field Office plans to continue managing the Ft. Meade Recreation Area as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern because “the site is notable for its place in western history,” BLM said. “The area contains many cultural and historical resources dating back many hundreds to thousands of years.”

The office noted the area’s proximity to the Black Hills and Bear Butte, a sacred site to many Native American tribes. A portion of the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

The revised planning document addresses a total 247,000 acres of public land and 1.7 million acres of federal minerals in 37 counties. The majority of the land and claims are in Western South Dakota in the counties of Harding, Butte, Lawrence, Pennington, Custer, Fall River, Meade, Perkins and Stanley.

Tribes taking part in consultation on the plan are Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux, Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara), Crow Creek Sioux, Rosebud Sioux, Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Santee Sioux, Lower Brule Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux.

Among comments the BLM received in the scoping process for the management plan were these:
“Can your lands near Bear Butte be managed in any way to help Native Americans have better access to Bear Butte, to have camping experience near Bear Butte and/or to express/worship their religion near Bear Butte?

“Can your management of your lands help protect Bear Butte from disturbance, noise or other inappropriate impacts?”

Among commenters on uranium mining proposed for BLM lands, Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member Jace DeCory, an instructor with the American Indian Studies Program at Black Hills State University, noted:
“In this document, it appears that the BLM deferred to the Nuclear Regulatory (Commission) as the lead agency regarding the Dewey-Burdock uranium project in the southern Black Hills. Some comment should be included regarding the current controversy regarding the proposed water permit and project application for the Powertech Company, as there are a number of folks who are in opposition to this permit.

“Water is precious and the BLM should also be concerned about aquifers and potential environmental hazards with this proposed uranium project, of which some lands are under the federal jurisdiction of the BLM.”

Environmental policy consultant Lilias Jarding commented in favor of closing BLM land to uranium mining, “which causes permanent damage to water, wildlife, our local economy and public health.”

Wild Earth Guardians representative Erik Molvar expressed concern that “mining for uranium, rare earth metals, bentonite, or other minerals would destroy sage grouse habitat.”

BLM responded that the proposed plan would mean “locatable minerals including uranium would be available for mineral exploration and development subject to special considerations needed to limit impacts of surface disturbance and protect other resource values while conducting activities.”

Prairie Hills Audubon Society commenter Nancy Hilding submitted a note on the subject of species protection: “We ask you to consult with neighboring tribes on their mountain lion management and objectives, not just South and North Dakota's, and Montana's wildlife agencies.”

BLM replied: “Most of the discussion items in the comment are typically addressed by the state Game, Fish and Parks.”

Oil and gas lessee Continental Resources asked if delays and deferrals would continue on permit applications for extraction on tracts that include grouse habitat or tribal concerns.

The agency responded: “BLM is working with the tribes to determine which tracts could be leased without adversely impacting the tribes. This decision will be made at the implementation (project) level.”

Other interests taking part in the process for the management plan are: Barrick Gold of North Amer. Inc. ; Petro-Hunt ; Western Land Services ; American Colloid ; West River Eagle; Howes Grazing Association ; Moreau Grazing Association ; Powertech Uranium Corp. GCC Dacotah Cement; Wharf Resources and Wind Quarry LLC.

Protests must be made in writing and mailed to Director (210) Attn. Protest Coordinator. The overnight delivery address is 20 M Street SE, Room 2134LM, Washington, D.C. 20003. The regular mail address is P.O. Box 71383, Washington, D.C. 20024-1383

Email can be directed to but the BLM will consider the email only as an advance copy. It must be validated by a hard copy postmarked by the close of the protest period.

Responses to protest issues will be compiled and formalized in a Director’s Protest Resolution Report made available following issuance of decisions on the issues, according to the agency.

(Contact Talli Nauman, NSN Health and Environment Editor at

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