Emerson said, “The presence of mountains appeases our irritations and elevates our friendships.”
From the Obama administration to the current Trump administration, there have been many individuals who have worked to avoid the Bears Ears designation and now work to rescind it.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation brings the hard work of our community to the forefront and demonstrates this administration is willing to engage with local people and local governments to address local matters. With this recommendation, we hope for an announcement from President Trump, declaring a reduction of the Bears Ears and Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monuments.
In his official summary, Zinke said: “President Trump was correct in tasking the Secretary of the Interior to review and provide recommendations of all monuments that were designated from 1996 to the present that are 100,000 acres or greater in size or made without adequate public consultation.”
This process was done honestly and earnestly, unlike the rush to designate by the previous administration.
The Antiquities Act has become a whip in the hands of environmental and political activists — groups that hope to annihilate opposing views simply by cranking up the volume of their opinions. Zinke, a former Navy Seal commander, has refused to cow down to negative campaign efforts, like those of Patagonia and other such groups. I hope the bad behavior of these groups will backfire, causing a “flagrant technical foul” resulting in them not only losing yardage but eventually being ejected from the game.
The root problem here in San Juan County is not the monument, but the false narrative used to justify it. History will verify that San Juan County, both the people and the administration, were proponents of Utah’s first National Monument: Natural Bridges. Additionally, the county worked hard to actuate the largest land transfer in Utah’s history when they lobbied the governor and Congress to give the “Paiute Strip” to the Navajos. San Juan County is home to Utah’s largest National Park, Utah’s only Tribal National Park, the nation’s largest National Recreation Area and, now, home to six national monuments.
Not only has San Juan County been fair in our dealings with environmental groups and federal agencies, but we have also been diligent in pursuing the science, the archaeology, the anthropology and the ecology of the area to create an informed and useful County Master Plan. It is this Master Plan that should guide the county in their management, and which federal agencies are legally required to conform their plans to.
Counties are not administrative sub-units of the federal government. They are the government closest to the people. In San Juan County, we are politically accountable, responsive to constituents who know the issues, know the people, know the land, its history and have a vision for its future.
Secretary Zinke is an honorable man. A man who listens, researches and considers both sides. As this chapter closes and another one begins, hopefully, we realize that federal designations do not add to the beautiful planet we call home.
Phil Lyman is a county commissioner in San Juan County.