Protecting the ecological and archaeological values of the Bears Ears region in southeast Utah has a long history that began more than a century ago.
On Dec. 28, President Barack Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument, protecting 1.35 million acres of canyon-country wilderness from development.
A chronology of the efforts that led to protection status:
1903: T. Michael Prudden publishes a detailed report on the archaeological resources of the greater Cedar Mesa area, which is submitted to the Department of Interior. The report concludes: “It is to be hoped that steps may soon be taken to protect these relics of a most instructive phase of primitive culture, and that authorized and intelligent research may be encouraged to enter a field still full of the promise of most interesting discovery.”
1908: President Theodore Roosevelt creates Natural Bridges National Monument, which is now a National Park within the Bears Ears monument.
1935: Department of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes prepares a national monument proposal for consideration by Roosevelt, which includes Cedar Mesa, Arch Canyon and a large region in southern Utah.
1962: Natural Bridges National Monument is expanded and has support of the San Juan County Commission.
1971: BLM establishes Grand Gulch Primitive Area to protect archaeological resources and ends grazing in the canyon. Upon establishment, the BLM hires seven full-time rangers to handle visitors and stop looters. Today, two part time rangers handle visitor management and one BLM ranger is on patrol. The number of visitors has tripled since the 1970s.
1972: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is created and encompasses the lower San Juan River and areas bordering Lake Powell.
1982: Grand Gulch Archaeological District is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1984: Congress establishes the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area: 47,116 acres just north of Bears Ears Buttes.
1989: BLM proposes 400,000 acre National Conservation Area for the Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch area.
1997: BLM begins permit program for backpacking into Cedar Mesa region.
2010: Utah Diné Bikeyah forms to protect culturally significant ancestral lands, including the Bears Ears region.
2013: The Public Lands Initiative is launched by Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah as a legislative solution to protecting the Bears Ears area. They propose a bill to protect 1.3 million acres, but it does not provide for co-management of the area from leaders of Native American tribes. The bill fails to gain traction and does not pass by the end of the last Congress.
2015: In July 2015, leaders from five tribes found the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing a historic consortium of sovereign tribal nations united in the effort to conserve the Bears Ears cultural landscape. A total of 30 tribes have expressed support for protecting the Bear Ears region. Native Americans also seeking active engagement in future management of the area.
July 2016: Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell tours the Bears Ears area and hosts a public hearing in Bluff, Utah, that draws thousands of people. Protesters for and against the monument surround the meeting held at the town’s community center.
December 2016: President Barack Obama designates the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument.