Letter: New National Monuments
On Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, President Barack Obama used his executive authority to designate two new national monuments, including 300,000 acres in southern Nevada, called Gold Butte, and 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah, called Bears Ears. To rural, hard-working Americans like me, who value clean air, fresh water, unspoiled wilderness, and whom honor the rich living history of our Native American brothers and sisters, this is truly a reason to celebrate. Using the Antiquities Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, Mr. Obama has permanently protected these cherished landscapes from oil and gas exploration and production, hard rock mining, proliferation of rogue off-road vehicle use, and destruction of thousands of culturally important sacred sites.
These designations have been heatedly debated in local, regional and national circles for years, and there are many who oppose the use of the Antiquities Act to protect places like these. But these designations are no surprise, and certainly no “Midnight Monument” bombshell, as Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz has called it. In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration first proposed the Bears Ears area as a national monument in 1936, and the Moapa band of the Paiute Tribe has been advocating for Gold Butte’s protection since at least 2008. Conservation organizations, local activists, and Native American Tribes across the west have supported these proposals for years, and because Utah’s delegation could not successfully craft and pass legislation to protect these valuable American treasures, President Obama took the brave step to do it himself.
Much of the hysteria surrounding these designations claim that there is no local support for the monuments, that this is another “federal land grab”, or that these monuments will hamper local economies. These claims are all completely untrue and have no basis in facts. In regards to Bears Ears, which spans a swath of federally owned and managed land from Moab south to Blanding, are you going to believe that nobody is in support of this? What about the thousands of local people who guide river trips, mountain bike tours, are hunting and fishing outfitters, work for Four Corners School of Outdoor Education in Monticello, or the Canyonlands Field Institute, or own gear shops in Moab, or the hundreds of local residents who work for the Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, or serve on the boards of groups like the Grand Canyon Trust, the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or the Friends of Cedar Mesa? More so, what about the local Native American population, whose ancestors called that place home? Five tribes united to form the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to design and advocate for this designation. Is this not local support? What about the local people who just don’t want fracking, road proliferation, and desecration of some of our Nation’s most amazing landscapes? Don’t believe the nay-sayers hype, because in the 21st century, not all rural people are ranchers or miners or oil workers.
Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, the author of the failed Public Lands Initiative bill, is one of the fiercest opponents of the Bears Ears Monument because he says it doesn’t consider local input. But according to Federal Election Commission records, about 96 percent of the $727,313 raised by Bishop through June 30 of 2016 had come from out of state, including almost $115,000 from the oil and gas industry. Is this the voice of local control? These lands, now designated as National Monuments, have been federally owned since before Utah or Nevada were even states. Their State Enabling Acts clearly state that they “…do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” All Americans have a say in the future of these public lands, and I thank President Obama for recognizing that millions of us prefer that these iconic landscapes remain protected for future generations.