Make Utah Great Again: What Overturning Bears Ears National Monument Says About the Beehive State, and Why You Should Care

I know, I know. There’s a lot to worry about right now.

It’s hard to know where to give your attention. Healthcare reform, immigration, women’s rights, marginalization of people of color, climate change–it all needs your (and my) help.

But this is the DESERT Bookworm after all, so if there’s one issue that deserves discussion here, it’s Bear’s Ears.

What’s Bears Ears National Monument?

Bears Ears is a massive amount of public land in southeast Utah. In July 2015, members of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe formed the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which requested that the land to be protected as a national monument and jointly managed by themselves and the Federal Government. This would preserve over 1,000,000 acres of pristine desert and protect thousands of ancient Puebloan archeological sites.

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Cedar Mesa Moon House in Bears Ears

On December 28, President Obama designated Bears Ears a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. (The Antiquities Act is a law that lets the president create national monuments, learn more about it here.)

That sounds good. So what’s the problem?

Utah lawmakers think that the federal government shouldn’t be allowed to designate public land because it oversteps state’s rights. Other critics argue that San Juan county needs the land for mining.

So Utah representatives are urging President Trump to overturn the designation.

On the bright side, no president has ever tried to abolish a monument (COUGH but would anyone be surprised if Trump were the first? COUGH) so there’s no legal precedent. But, there’s more that’s at stake here.

First, overturning Bears Ears would be a clear statement that the united voices of Native Americans do not matter in the face of white industry. Utah lawmakers are saying that preserving tens of thousands of ancient Puebloan archeological sites is less important than the option of building a mine in San Juan county. We need Native Americans in charge of their own ancestral lands, finally.

This would be yet another chapter in the unfortunate (and ENORMOUS) history of white Americans ignoring the people who were here first. Quoting an article from High County News: “Mormon history, the Constitution and laws, and white man’s history are written on paper,” said Octavius Seowtewa of Zuni. “Our history — the Native history — is written in stone on canyon walls.” We can’t afford to ignore the native people one more time.

Second, overturning Bears Ears is also a clear statement that conservation is not a priority in Utah, not to mention the nation at large. Many Utahns, including those who sit in government in Salt Lake, somehow don’t recognize that the state’s appeal is its national parks and public lands. The Antiquities Act was used to preserve Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches (you know, the one on the license plate??), Capital Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and a dozen other smaller monuments in Utah. To argue against the Act is to deny the legislation that’s preserved Utah’s most beloved gems.

Utah’s outdoor recreation is legendary–and beneficial. In 2016, Zion National Park alone brought in over 4,000,000 visitors. Utah’s recreation industry generates $12 billion in gross national product with over 120,000 jobs in the state, and is home to major retailers Black Diamond, Petzl, QBP, and Backcountry. The Outdoor Retail show in Salt Lake City (which is threatening to move to a different state if Bears Ears gets overturned) brings in $50 million in direct spending in Utah every year. Point is, what makes Utah great is not its mines. Utah needs its public lands. To endanger our national monuments is to endanger Utah’s well-being.

Finally, why the heck would we want to create the power to un-designate national parks?!? Even if you never plan on visiting Utah, there’s probably a national monument in your state that you care about. Let’s not create the legislation to retroactively destroy national parks.

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The Citadel, Bears Ears

So if you’ve ever thought “man, what white people did to the Native Americans really sucks,” or “ooooh, let’s check out that national park!” then you should care about Bears Ears.

And on a personal note:

I’ve spent dozens of nights sleeping under the stars in primitive regions of Utah’s public lands (several of which were in the Cedar Mesa area, which is now part of Bears Ears). I’ve driven for hours without passing a single other car to bury myself in Utah’s empty sandstone canyons for a weekend. I’ve sped down Utah’s slickrock on a mountain bike, dodging scrub brush, cacti, and lizards. I’ve sunbathed on the bleached-white shores of desert reservoirs, yards away from visible dinosaur tracks. In Utah’s deserts, I’ve stayed awake staring at the impossibly bright milky way, snowshoed around hoodoos, gotten terribly lost, and rinsed off the sweat stains of a long trek in a desert stream.

There’s one consistent thought I have when I’m in Southern Utah: many people live their whole lives without seeing things like this. The people who came before me knew what made Utah great, and worked hard to preserve it.

There’s nowhere else in the country like southern Utah. And I desperately want my kids to know about it.


PS – GOOD NEWS! There’s stuff you can do to help!

1. EASIEST: Email your representatives using the  Bears Ears Coalition Action Form. This nifty form has a pre-written prompt that encourages your representatives to protect the existing public lands. All you have to do is add your address, select your representative from the provided list, and press send. It takes 30 seconds.

2. Take 1% for the Planet’s Oath of Action, and post a picture.

3. Read this statement from 100 outdoor industry companies about their commitment to protect America’s lands. Choose to shop from these brands as much as possible.

4. Get a 1% for the Planet Credit Card, that donates 1% of your spending directly to three charities of your choice.

5. Donate to one of these approved non-profits to benefit the environment.

6. Donate to the Trust for Public Land or the National Parks Conservation Association.

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