Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be slashed and redistributed following an unprecedented Executive Order (EO) to review the Antiquities Act. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition issued a condemning response:
“For us, Bears Ears is a homeland. It always has been and still is. The radical idea of breaking up Bears Ears National Monument is a slap in the face to the members of our Tribes and an affront to Indian people all across the country. Any attempt to eliminate or reduce the boundaries of this Monument would be wrong on every count. Such action would be illegal, beyond the reach of presidential authority.”
“The Bears Ears region is not a series of isolated objects, but the object itself, a connected, living landscape, where the place, not a collection of items, must be protected. You cannot reduce the size without harming the whole. Bears Ears is too precious a place, and our cultures and values too dignified and worthy, to backtrack on the promises made in the Presidential Proclamation.”
Several tribal nations not only have ancestral ties to the region, considering it sacred, but continue to use the region for daily living as well as spiritual practices. In fact, Bears Ears is so named because it is the English translation of the native languages describing the region.
Established in 1906 to protect mostly Native American land and artifacts, the Antiquities Act was enacted because it was quicker than passing legislation through Congress, serving to justly and effectively conserve land of “historic and scientific” interest from exploitation.
The dissolution of Bears Ears would unfortunately be yet another transgression against the heritage of Tribal Nations. In 2015 the Coalition was established as a unifying voice fighting for the protection of Bears Ears. The members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition are: Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe.
Bears Ears Buttes and its surrounding areas were designated a national monument by former President Obama in December 2016, protecting over 1.35 million acres of federal and state land after years of pleas by Native Americans. But even this was a compromise. The original proposal included about 30 percent more land–protection of 1.9 million acres–but mining companies fought to exclude the Red Canyon from the monument designation. Sadly, this vulnerable canyon is full of fossils from the Triassic period dating back to 250 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
In April 2017, President Trump’s EO stated there should be a review of land protected from the year 1996 up until now, “in recognition of the importance of the Nation’s wealth of natural resources to American workers and the American economy.”
“Monument designations that result from a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with State, tribal, and local officials and other relevant stakeholders may also create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of Federal lands, burden State, tribal, and local governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.”
The time period addressed in the EO is not arbitrary. During these years, former President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also in Utah. Because the federal government has control over so much of Utah’s land, it has always been a hotbed of controversy between protection and exploitation of resources. In 2016, House Republicans tried to pass the deceitfully named Utah Public Lands Initiative Act dedicating some Utah land, including Bears Ears, to monument status while allowing for fossil fuel development in other parts of the region. After opposition, it died on the floor.
Now, the Trump Administration is trying to open protected land and roll back any previous progress on its safety with the goal of economic development, as indicated in the EO by way of a corporate, environmentally dangerous grab bag.
The oil and gas industry, as well as farmers and ranchers, have argued for more land development. But we have overwhelming evidence that exploiting our natural resources leads to the destruction, pollution, and erosion of our environment, and is ultimately a threat to the safety of our planet.
This trespass will not go unchallenged. We have until July 10th to make our voices heard. The Department of the Interior and Ryan Zinke will take comments on his proposal. In the name of conservation, and in solidarity with tribal nations protecting their ancestral land, send statements supporting the current boundaries of the monument at regulations.gov.