Sarah Bauman: America wants its national monuments, and so does Utah

Sen. Mike Lee makes misleading statements about the nature of the Antiquities Act

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee speaks with delegates attending the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

Sen. Mike Lee is attempting, yet again, to block presidents from creating or expanding national monuments.

A Colorado College poll this year shows that 73% of Utahns support monuments, parks and refuges to protect historic sites or provide areas for recreation, and 74% of Utahns support restoring national monuments. Lee’s proposal is in direct opposition to the will of the people in Utah.

With his re-introduction of the “Protect Utah’s Rural Economy” bill, otherwise known as “PURE,” Lee hopes to halt the creation and expansion of national monuments in the state of Utah. The hearing for this bill comes at the same time that America waits for possible restoration of two national monuments in Utah: Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears.

I found the following statement Lee made at the time of his proposed legislation misleading. Not true. And deeply disturbing. And I will explain why.

”Rural Americans want what all Americans want: a dignified decent-paying job, a family to love and support, and a healthy community whose future is determined by local residents — not their self-styled betters thousands of miles away … Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act was originally intended to protect objects of historic and cultural interest like artifacts and religious sites. Unfortunately, what was once a narrowly targeted tool for preventing looting on federal lands has become a weapon urban elites use against hard working rural Americans.”

The only goal with a statement like this is to create a division by reinforcing a false narrative and pit Americans against one another. We must stand up, as Americans, to repeated attempts to divide us for political gain.

Recently, 20 Utah businesses cosigned a letter supporting monument restoration for the wellbeing of these communities, and the Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce specified that tourism to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was the bedrock of the economy there.

The monuments have been proven to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the rural communities — providing exactly the thing that Lee claims rural Americans want — decent jobs and healthy communities that local people create.

Secondly, Lee left out an important part of the original Antiquities Act in his public statement accompanying his legislation. He states that the Antiquities Act of 1906 was originally intended to protect “objects of historic and cultural interest like artifacts and religious sites.” However, the actual Antiquities Act included “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

Both Grand Staircase and Bears Ears were created because they contain a wealth of irreplaceable objects of historic and scientific interest — both natural and cultural. From the sacred sites of Native peoples to the paleontological research opportunities, these monuments were clearly created within the original intent of the Antiquities Act.

The truth is that most Americans — and, importantly, most Americans in the state of Utah — are in favor of our national monuments and the protections they provide. They also understand how critical these public lands are to Native Americans as well as our ability to advance scientific knowledge about human history, biodiversity and climate change.

It is time for Sen. Lee, and the rest of the Utah delegation, to recognize this truth — the Utah monuments were created fair and square.

And one more thing. America wants them back.

Sarah Bauman | executive director, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners

Sarah Bauman is executive director of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners.