Stephen Trimble: Mr. President, it’s not too late to save Bears Ears

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The two buttes that make up the namesake for the Bears Ears National Monument reveal the vast landscape surrounding them as part of the 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah protected by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016. Utah Republicans in Congress are advocating for Trump to jettison UtahÕs national monument designation.

The president told Sen. Orrin Hatch Friday that he’s going to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, “For you, Orrin.” He’s not doing so for the American people.

America needs what the Bears Ears can offer: “powerful medicine for healing — of the land, of plants and animals, and for all people.” Barack Obama acknowledged this vision from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, this historic and restorative breathing space, when he created Bears Ears National Monument in December 2016.

The Coalition reminds us: “The Bears Ears region is not a series of isolated objects, but the object itself, a connected, living landscape, where the place, not a collection of items, must be protected. You cannot reduce the size without harming the whole.”

Utah’s congressional delegation refuses to listen. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke refuses to listen. I urge the president to listen. Turn back to the tribes before you finalize your attack on the integrity of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and other national monuments.

Both the secretary and the president are responding to Hatch and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who shriek about the overreach of the United States, about the arrogance of that elitist African-American president we “endured” for eight years, about the (actually minimal) fabulous energy wealth we have “locked up.”

Donald Trump knows next to nothing of the Native history of Bears Ears, of the vulnerable habitats and extraordinary fossil record of Grand Staircase-Escalante, of public lands, of tribal sovereignty, of the Antiquities Act. He signed off on the Utah delegation’s demands because, like them, he sees these millions of western acres as developable commodities.

And, yet, healing is possible, if only the president will listen to the people before he acts.

During Zinke’s review, the Department of the Interior asked the public to comment on our most recent 21 years of designating natural treasures as national monuments. And 2.8 million citizens responded. More than 99 percent of us said, without qualification, “leave the monuments alone.” More than 90 percent of Utahns who submitted testimony opposed Zinke’s review.

As Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, former co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, says, the Department of the Interior “shook a tree” when they asked for public input. What they got surprised them, an astonishing archive, the largest ever, documenting just how fiercely American citizens value national monuments and public lands. Now, the president must explain away all of our comments to justify reversing conservation and stewardship for what Zinke calls the “traditional” uses of grazing, logging, drilling and mining.

The president has more than Zinke’s and Hatch’s noisy rhetoric to go on. He has those nearly 3 million passionate citizens pleading with him. He has the united front of more than 500 Native nations standing up for Bears Ears.

Donald Trump wants to win hearts. He wants people to like him. So I have a sure-win scenario for him.

Mr. President, it’s not too late. Heed the outpouring of rage and grief rolling toward you. Preserve our national monuments as designated. Do not diminish them, do not open them to destructive resource extraction, but cherish them, manage them, protect them.

These lands belong to us all — part of the Union we strive to keep perfect and unbroken. If we truly put America first, that means listening to the First Americans, listening to the American people, and acting on behalf of generations to come. President Trump, in this case boldness means restraint.

Stephen Trimble at his home in Torrey, Utah

Writer and teacher Stephen Trimble lives in Salt Lake City and Torrey. His latest book is “Red Rock Stories: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah’s Public Lands.”