Shrinking of Bears Ears Monument

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Layla Apodaca, Reporter

In the scenic state of Utah, Bears Ears National Monument has become a symbol in the battle over America’s protected public lands. Created December 28th of 2016 by previous President Obama, it is now being reduced by 85%. That’s more than one million acres divided into two smaller, discontiguous monuments – Indian Creek National Monument, and Shash Jaa National Monument.

As part of his campaign pledge to reduce federal protections for lands with potential for fossil fuel extraction, President Donald Trump traveled to Utah in early December, 2017, and signed proclamations to adjust the boundaries and management of the monument. The proclamation allows for traditional use for activities like cattle grazing, motorized recreation, and tribal collection of wood and herbs will be allowed, as well as leasing for oil and gas extraction.

“America has spoken and public land belongs to the people,” said Secretary Zinke. “[I] found that we agree on wanting to protect our heritage while still allowing public access to public land. My recommendations to the President reflect that, in some circumstances, proclamations should be amended, boundaries revised, and management plans updated.”

Part of the proclamation says that they are going to maintain an ongoing review to ensure ​public ​access​ to encourage more hunting and fishing in monuments. Public land use will be monitored by the appropriate federal land management agency, such as the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the National Park Service (NPS).

“The people of Utah overwhelmingly voiced to us that public land should be protected not for the special interests, but for the citizens of our great country who use them, and this is what President Trump is doing today,” said Zinke.

Conservation groups universally condemned the President’s decision. Friends of Cedar Mesa, a conservation group that contains many Durango citizens, explained that they provided strong information about the wide variety of archaeology to the President and the Secretary but the two failed to take it into consideration. A proclamation was signed by President Obama to project more than 100,000 sites of scientific and historic value throughout Bears Ears, and Trump’s actions resemble great disrespect to many.

“We and the Bluff community are strong local supporters of the Monument and have first-hand experience in the backcountry throughout the Bears Ears, now, the President has taken an action that is both illegal and immoral,” said Friends of Cedar Mesa in a press release.

So. Rebecca Bowers explains her experiences at the monument and says she thinks the most important thing for people to do is educate themselves. They can’t build an opinion off of only what they’ve heard.

“I’ve been backpacking and hiking in that area many times, and it’s definitely one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been to.” Bowers said. “There are just miles and miles of open land where you can walk and not see another person or any sign of human interaction with the environment.”

Native American tribes are  also frustrated, and claim Bears Ears their sacred land; the region was once home to the Ancestral Pueblo civilization from 600 AD to 1300 AD.

“The President’s proclamation is contrary to law, ignores overwhelming public support for the original monument designation, and dishonors Native American heritage and culture,” said a group representing five tribes who consider the land sacred, Native American tribe, Utah Dine Bikeyah.

Bears Ears sets a precedent in many respects – the President also plans to reduce more monuments (including Grand Staircase-Escalante). Additionally, the Trump Administration opened up the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, and supports efforts to transfer federal land to private ownership.

This proclamation is the first time any president has attempted to abolish a monument established by a previous president, and is also the largest elimination of protected lands in U.S. history.

“Despite his claim that his decision represents the will of the people, the decision only advances the interests of a few, at the expense of many,” said Utah Dine Bikeyah in their most recent press release. “The Administration received over 3 million public comments this summer, and over 98% of those comments favored keeping the Bears Ears National Monument intact.”