Cedar Mesa, Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch and Valley of the Gods are all places with names that evoke the almost mythical natural landscape familiar to many residents and visitors of the Four Corners who have hiked, hunted, floated and appreciated the archaeology in them. They are big places with open spaces one can imagine not looking too much different than they did millions of years ago.
Bounded to the west by the Green and Colorado rivers, to the east by Highway 191 from Moab to Bluff, and along the southern edge by the San Juan River, the 1.9 million acres of public and ancestral lands known as the Bears Ears may soon receive permanent protection. Some say this is long overdue – by a century or more.
In 1906, Congress established the Antiquities Act, largely in response to rampant looting of archaeological sites in the Four Corners, including the Bears Ears region, which continues today. It gives the president the authority to create national monuments from public lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific resources. To date, presidents have used the act over 100 times to establish monuments, including Canyon of the Ancients west of Cortez, but not yet for an area for which it was perfectly designed.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie will hold a public meeting on Saturday, July 16, in Bluff, Utah, to receive comments on community visions for the management of Southern Utah’s public lands, including Utah Republican Congressmen Rob Bishop’s and Jason Chaffetz’s Public Lands Initiative and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s proposal to designate a new national monument. Their visit is an important step toward ensuring the Bears Ears region receives the protection it deserves.
Stakeholders, including conservation, off-highway vehicle and recreation groups, have spent the past three years working with tribal leaders and Utah’s congressional delegation on legislation that would protect this area, but to date, no legislation has been introduced in Congress. The draft legislation to be released this week is anticipated to be much improved but may still not be acceptable to stakeholders and tribes. Time is running out.
Frustrated by legislative inaction, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition came together to conserve the Bears Ears cultural landscape and requested that President Obama proclaim it a national monument. The historic consortium of sovereign nations includes leaders of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Utes, Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe of northeastern Utah. It is also the first time the conservation community is following the lead of and supporting a proposal developed by Native Americans.
Dozens of conservation and recreation groups and a total of 26 tribes have expressed support and are united in their vision for protecting the Bears Ears region. The Bears Ears National Monument proposal presents an extraordinary opportunity to protect a scenically spectacular and archaeologically rich landscape and to do something that has never been done before by creating a national monument that protects Native American ancestral homelands and provides the tribes a meaningful role in their management.
To add your voice to those seeking to do what is right for the land and the people that trace their heritage to it, take a drive to Bluff on Saturday.