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Editorial: Obama should create a Bears Ears National Monument

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 10:00 pm

Just about everyone who spoke at Wednesday's meeting of the Utah Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands was arguing for President Obama to order the creation of a 1.9 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah.

So that is exactly what Obama should do.

Most of the support for the monument proposal came from the overflow audience, which included regular citizens, environmental activists and, most importantly, representatives of Utah Dine Bikeyah and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition which is comprised of five tribes including the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Uinta-Ouray Ute and the Navajo Nation.




Most of the opposition came from the members of the misnamed commission. But the attitude of commission members who so fiercely stand against the idea was so dismissive, uninformed and short-sighted that they were actually, if inadvertently, making the case for Obama to unsheath the federal Antiquities Act and make a specific preservation plan for the area that is sacred to so many Native Americans, individually and as members of a collection of nations.

The unreasoning devotion to the idea that the Bears Ears region, and the rest of the 31 million acres of federal land within Utah's boundaries ought to belong to the state of Utah or private developers dominates the commission, the Legislature, the office of Gov. Gary Herbert and the narrow wing of the Republican Party that bestrides its caucus and convention system.

That argument might have some practical and ethical standing if there was even a glimmer of understanding shown by state officials that preservation is, in so many cases, in the long-term interests of Utahns, both native and newcomer.

If there was any appreciation of the fact that the Bears Ears area includes thousands of scientifically and culturally significant sites.

If there was any hint that our leaders grasp the fact that decisions made about this and other national monuments, parks and wilderness areas aren't about Utah. They aren't about the few who rule over the many in the Legislature or on the San Juan County Commission. They aren't even really about the United States of America.

They are about natural and cultural heritage and treasures that belong to all humanity. That the United States, by accidents of history and geography, happens to own that land and owns the duty to care for it in ways that make it available, first to the descendants of those who lived there millennia ago, then to the rest of us.

The borders on the white man's maps — counties, states, nations — matter little except to assign responsibilities. They do not convey or imply the right of those who happen to live on one side of some of those borders to covet and exploit these lands for their own short-term political and economic gain.

The president has held off any plans he may have on protecting Bears Ears or any other portions of Utah in deference to the Public Lands Initiative put together by Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

But, after years of back and forth, and much outcry from the Navajo and others that their concerns were not heeded, the PLI has yet to be introduced as a bill. If it were put before Congress, there is little indication that, with so much opposition from the tribes and environmental groups from across the nation, it would have a chance to become law.

Thus should Obama end the delay, the bickering and the suspense and create the Bears Ears National Monument.

 

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