Tribune editorial: Despite Trump administration’s efforts, tourists — and Utah — haven’t forgotten our former national monuments

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Monarch Cave in the Butler Wash in Bears Ears National Monument.

The Trump administration’s accidental release of documents shows what was already obvious: The decision to rescind two national monuments in Utah required the administration to downplay the monuments’ tourism benefits.

In yet another sign of the Interior Department’s phony process, the department first released unredacted background reports, then later replaced them with redacted versions. That makes it easy to compare what they wanted to show as their evidence with the actual evidence.

It’s not just a political embarrassment. It also could provide more legal ammunition for the Indian tribes and environmental groups who are suing to rescind the rescissions. Just as Presidents Clinton and Obama had to have documented evidence for declaring Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments in the first place, President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had to present an evidentiary case for killing them.

And it’s not as if tourism at the monuments can or should be ignored. The state of Utah certainly isn’t doing that.

Now almost eight months since the president killed them, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments are still featured on the state’s official tourism website, VisitUtah.com, under “most popular parks.”

If you really poke around VisitUtah.com using the search function, you can find pages, with virtually no information, on Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument. What are those, you ask? They are the two smaller monuments Trump created to replace Bears Ears. State tourism officials hurriedly put up the pages when the new monuments were announced, but nothing has been added since.

And it’s no wonder the state continues to promote Bears Ears instead of Shash Jáa. All one has to do is look at Google. Bears Ears National Monument is a regularly used search term, while Shash Jáa National Monument is almost never searched. If you are an outfitter or hotel or any other tourism-related business in San Juan County, your business would wither if you promoted Shash Jáa over Bears Ears on your website or social media.

All of this is just a continuation of the monumental blunder the whole anti-Bears Ears campaign has been. Utah is still promoting on its website what the people behind the Outdoor Retailer convention wanted it to promote — the Bears Ears National Monument — but only after Utah politicians chased away the lucrative convention because they didn’t want to acknowledge a Bears Ears monument.

Why didn’t Utah want to acknowledge it? Because it said the federal government ignored local interests in creating the monument. How did Utah figure the locals didn’t want it? It relied on the illegitimate San Juan County government that a federal judge ordered dismantled because it systematically disenfranchised Indians, most of whom are enthusiastic supporters of the monument.

Bears Ears National Monument has already won the branding war, regardless of what happens to the lawsuits over its existence. Utah’s tourism people know it, even as its politicians are still in denial.