Western View: Reason for National Monuments

Taylor HillmanFeatures, Western View

Log meadow in Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park. Photo credit: Anthony R. Ambrose
We’ve seen lots of new National Monuments created in the last two decades. Many of them have been contentious, in the news with lots of political opposition. Because of that we tend to forget that there are good reasons to create a National Monument.

Bears Ears

It isn’t to serve the narrow goals of a special interest group such as the Sierra Club. It’s to preserve places that are important to all Americans.

The Antiquities act of 1906 gives the President the right to create National Monuments in order to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. It came about because Indian ruins and artifacts on federal lands in the West were being pillaged by unscrupulous pot hunters back then.

The act states that it is intended for: “… the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.” When those intentions are observed, we end up protecting land in a way that benefits all of us, not just a select few.

And that’s the case with Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

Bears Ears is located in the 4 corners area, north of the community of Mexican Hat and south of Monticello. This is incredibly beautiful country, but incredibly dry and rugged; not much grows in the red sand or on the distant buttes. Much of this region is controlled by the Navajo Nation, the Hopi, the Utes, or any of a number of Pueblo communities. It’s an area that is uniquely Native American. A total of 26 tribes have a vested interest in the area, and are asking the US government to protect the land with monument status.

The natives have identified the problem areas that they feel could be solved by this designation. First is, looting and grave-robbing, which is exactly what the Antiquities Act is designed to prevent. For more than a century, the Bears Ears region has been a target for looters and grave robbers due to its spectacular archaeological and cultural resources. Unfortunately, this trend continues. More than a dozen cases were reported in 2015.

Next, there’s renewed interest in oil and gas development, as well as potash mining. These activities would forever mar the landscape. Oil and gas and potash all exist in abundance outside the Bear Ears region; Bears Ears is currently mostly untouched.

Also, irresponsible off-road vehicle use affects both the scenery and archaeological and cultural resources found in Bears Ears. Significant and irreversible damage has already occurred here due to decades of irresponsible use.

The Bears Ears region seems to be perfectly tailored to be a National Monument. There seems to be very little reason to oppose the designation – a recent poll shows 77 per cent of the area’s residents support it. But will Washington do it? We’ll see…

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.