The saving graces of the Antiquities Act
On April 16, Utah's first national monument Natural Bridges will celebrate its 105th birthday. On that same date, Utah's Republican congressmen will hold a hearing in Washington on three bills that would undercut the Antiquities Act the law which empowers presidents to create national monuments.
Disabling the Antiquities Act contradicts the values of my family and my pioneer ancestors. I desperately hope that we can persuade our representatives that weakening the Antiquities Act would place us on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of economic prosperity and the wrong side of the center line of Utah sentiment.
I am a native Utahn, a father of four, a chemical and aerospace engineer by profession and a landscape photographer by passion. Like so many other Utahns, my life is continually enriched and my spirit renewed by time spent in the wondrous landscapes protected in our state under the Antiquities Act. These don't feel like radical thoughts to me, but like mainstream Utah values.
At Natural Bridges National Monument, I have stood in wonder with my kids beneath the arcs of stone spanning the sky. I have been transported across time by the ancient dwellings and enchanting rock art of ancestral Native Americans. And I have been deeply humbled by the glorious beauty of the monument's night sky and the view of our universe it enables. (According to the International Dark Sky Association, Natural Bridges has the darkest and most dazzling firmament in the lower 48 states.)
My family and I have been similarly awed and inspired by the 10 other areas in Utah initially protected under the Antiquities Act Zion, Rainbow Bridge, Dinosaur, Timpanogos Cave, Hovenweep, Bryce, Arches, Cedar Breaks, Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Is there a Utahn who hasn't bragged about these places when describing our beloved state?
It seems so clear that our human capacity for joy in these wonders is a direct blessing in our lives. Should we not rejoice in and preserve these special blessings of beauty that are so unique to our state?
Those are the values of my ancestors, even in pioneer times when the lands could still defend themselves rather well. But modern-day pressures threaten to damage and diminish our treasured landscapes. How can we consider such a loss? Do we not owe it to our descendents to use tools like the Antiquities Act to safeguard the beauty we have inherited?
Such acts of stewardship also benefit us economically. I am a small example. I have a small business selling my photographs of Utah's scenic landscapes. But studies show that the world notices when we set aside precious lands for future generations and they come to visit.
Research by Headwaters Economics confirms that communities near national monuments experience consistent increases in per-capita income, employment and population. We are also learning that protected landscapes and the quality of life they offer act like an economic magnet. They attract and help us retain the talent needed for innovation in our economic engine statewide.
The Antiquities Act has brought positive benefits to people and communities across the United States. Rather than attacking this valuable tool, our elected leaders should be demanding that the president use it to preserve other deserving landscapes.
Greater Canyonlands the magnificent landscape surrounding Canyonlands National Park and encompassing Natural Bridges National Monument would be a great next step.
Bret Webster is a chemical engineer and aerospace/defense manager, as well as a photographer of native Utah landscapes. He lives in Bountiful.