The Fight to Protect Culture and Utah Lands: The Proposed Bears Ears National Monument

Letter to editor

In San Juan County Utah, south of Moab and east of Lake Powell, lies an area of such significance that it has caught both the attention of state and national news over the last year. Known as Bears Ears, or the Bears Ears region, this aesthetically jaw-dropping and culturally diverse place is home to Natural Bridges National Monument, the Abajo Mountains, Cedar Mesa, White Canyon, hundreds of thousands of ancient Native American ruins and the famous Bears Ears, two red buttes that rise above the Juniper forests about fifty miles west from Blanding, Utah.

Named by the Native Americans who have occupied these lands for hundreds of years, these buttes and the surrounding 1.5 million acres have recently come under fire due to a quarrel spawned by the political elites over what ought to be done with our public lands. Recently, the flames of that debate have been fanned by a draft bill known as the Public Lands Initiative. On the surface, this bill is framed as a great compromise to settle the multi-decade dispute over state versus federal land management. Within the text of the bill however, this draft most notably transfers most of Utah’s 30 million plus acres of public land to state control, with over 2.5 million of those acres allocated for mining and energy development.

A large swath of this energy development will penetrate the Bears Ears region. It is difficult for many to understand why an area of such significance would be under so great a threat, which is why over sixty percent of San Juan county residents wish the Bears Ears region would be designated as a national monument. Meanwhile, environmental groups, coalitions of university students and hundreds of Utah citizens have shown up at public hearings and comment periods about Bears Ears in massive numbers to express the need for a national monument. Most importantly, in 2015 a coalition of Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute and Uintah Ouray Ute natives came together to express the deep, multi-tribe significance of the area and petition for national monument designation. Yet despite this clear opposition, the county commissioners, Utah state legislature, Governor Herbert and the two congressman who proposed the Public Land Initiative are claiming to speak for all of Utah and moving quickly to ensure that this land will not be protected with monument designation.

It is a mistake of geography that arguably one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse landscapes on earth is now threatened by a few powerful Utah representatives, an area that has been occupied by Native Americans for millennia. These are the lands that dozens of Native American tribes have hunted in, worshiped in, fought in and lived in for hundreds of years. Today, the region faces threats of drilling and mining, irresponsible motorized impacts, dramatic increases in unmanaged visitation and looting and grave-robbing. Imagine if the only place where your ancestors were buried and where the heirlooms were left behind was driven over by ATVs and looted. There have been twenty-five documented cases of looting in Bears ears over the last few years, with many more cases going unreported.  

This Wednesday, the 18th, Governor Herbert and the state legislature will convene to propose a resolution in opposition to designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. This special session will once again be occupied by hundreds of Utah citizens who are organizing to stand in firm opposition to the land grab our state is engaging in. All are welcome to attend, to support a wise path for Utah citizens, Native Americans and the protection a beautiful cultural landscape.

In San Juan County Utah, south of Moab and east of Lake Powell, lies an area of such significance that it has caught both the attention of state and national news over the last year. Known as Bears Ears, or the Bears Ears region, this aesthetically jaw-dropping and culturally diverse place is home to Natural Bridges National Monument, the Abajo Mountains, Cedar Mesa, White Canyon, hundreds of thousands of ancient Native American ruins and the famous Bears Ears, two red buttes that rise above the Juniper forests about fifty miles west from Blanding, Utah.

Named by the Native Americans who have occupied these lands for hundreds of years, these buttes and the surrounding 1.5 million acres have recently come under fire due to a quarrel spawned by the political elites over what ought to be done with our public lands. Recently, the flames of that debate have been fanned by a draft bill known as the Public Lands Initiative. On the surface, this bill is framed as a great compromise to settle the multi-decade dispute over state versus federal land management. Within the text of the bill however, this draft most notably transfers most of Utah’s 30 million plus acres of public land to state control, with over 2.5 million of those acres allocated for mining and energy development.

A large swath of this energy development will penetrate the Bears Ears region. It is difficult for many to understand why an area of such significance would be under so great a threat, which is why over sixty percent of San Juan county residents wish the Bears Ears region would be designated as a national monument. Meanwhile, environmental groups, coalitions of university students and hundreds of Utah citizens have shown up at public hearings and comment periods about Bears Ears in massive numbers to express the need for a national monument. Most importantly, in 2015 a coalition of Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute and Uintah Ouray Ute natives came together to express the deep, multi-tribe significance of the area and petition for national monument designation. Yet despite this clear opposition, the county commissioners, Utah state legislature, Governor Herbert and the two congressman who proposed the Public Land Initiative are claiming to speak for all of Utah and moving quickly to ensure that this land will not be protected with monument designation.

It is a mistake of geography that arguably one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse landscapes on earth is now threatened by a few powerful Utah representatives, an area that has been occupied by Native Americans for millennia. These are the lands that dozens of Native American tribes have hunted in, worshiped in, fought in and lived in for hundreds of years. Today, the region faces threats of drilling and mining, irresponsible motorized impacts, dramatic increases in unmanaged visitation and looting and grave-robbing. Imagine if the only place where your ancestors were buried and where the heirlooms were left behind was driven over by ATVs and looted. There have been twenty-five documented cases of looting in Bears ears over the last few years, with many more cases going unreported.  

This Wednesday, the 18th, Governor Herbert and the state legislature will convene to propose a resolution in opposition to designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. This special session will once again be occupied by hundreds of Utah citizens who are organizing to stand in firm opposition to the land grab our state is engaging in. All are welcome to attend, to support a wise path for Utah citizens, Native Americans and the protection a beautiful cultural landscape.

—Logan Christian

logchristian@gmail.com

Logan Christian is an Environmental Studies major at USU with minors in Geography and Sustainable Systems. He interns for the Sustainability Office, helping students write Blue Goes Green grants to enhance our institutional sustainability and support USU’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050. He is the co-president of an active campus club called the Student Organization for Society and Natural Resources. This year, he is working on a research project to assess the perceived vulnerability and risks of climate change among Native Americans. Logan likes to read, play guitar, backpack and volunteer around Cache Valley.


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