There’s something almost regal about the soaring, untouched cliffs that await visitors in Bear Ears. Located in the heart of San Juan County in Utah, Bear Ears represents one of the last expanses of natural beauty and cultural preserve unimpacted by the pulverizing touch of industrialization. For climbers, hikers, and anthropologists, the monument’s 1.4-million acre expanse has been a source of joy and a place for exploration – and only a year ago, those who loved the preserve thought it would be safe from commercial intrusion. In October of 2016, President Obama named Bear Ears as a national monument in order to “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes. [Establishing Bear Ears] will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.” However, President Obama’s hope for a preserve at Bear Ears may well fall flat; the national monument’s security is in the process of eroding away under governmental pressure.
Our current administration has made its position on preserving national monuments dangerously clear; President Trump himself referred to President Obama’s decision to name Bear Ears as a protected national monument as an “egregious abuse of federal power, [a] massive federal land grab [that] should never have happened.” The president’s discussion on the subject has since quieted, but the actions of his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, continue to speak for themselves. In mid-September, Zinke published a report recommending that protected lands in Utah, Nevada, and Oregon all be considerably reduced, and further suggested that ten additional monuments be modified to permit greater industrial use. He capped off this report with the suggestion that President Trump add a new monument in Montana. This report is alarming by itself – but unfortunately, more legislation has been suggested by those who wish to parcel and sell public land to commercial developers. According to literature posted on the AccessFund’s website, these past few months have seen an unprecedented “number of bills, executive orders, resolutions, and legislative rules that push to dispose, transfer, and diminish our public lands.” Only recently, Utah governor Gary Herbert quietly submitted a proposal to downsize Bear Ears by a full 90% and earmark the unprotected land for oil pipeline interests.
Damaging proposals like these cannot be allowed to go through. Bear Ears is as vulnerable as it is beautiful – and unfortunately, once that beauty is marred by commercial development, it can never be fully regained. We need to protect our national monuments against these legislative assaults and ensure that the cultural and environmental health of these areas continues. If you want to protect these precious areas, please consider supporting the Access Fund in its fight to protect our public lands.