Friends of Cedar Mesa has been awarded $300,000 from the World Monuments Fund to help protect the most at-risk archaeology sites in the Bears Ears area of southeast Utah.
The contribution is part of a $1 million fundraising campaign for needed preservation measures, said Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, based in Bluff, Utah.
“We are very grateful for the contribution and the help it will provide protecting these important historical sites. Regardless of where anyone stands on the controversy surrounding Bears Ears National Monument, there’s no doubt that public-private partnerships are needed to address the very real issues here on the ground,” he said. “We know threatened cultural sites of Bears Ears can’t wait for a government bailout or a final resolution in years of legal proceedings.”
The controversy of Bears Ears National Monument, and the Trump administration’s move to shrink it by 85%, has led to an influx of visitation to fragile Native American ruins.
“Bears Ears is a globally important cultural resource,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, president and CEO of World Monuments Fund. “That’s why we included Bears Ears on the 2020 World Monuments Watch alongside renowned sites such as the Notre-Dame de Paris, Sacred Valley of the Incas and Easter Island. We’re excited to partner with Friends of Cedar Mesa on these tangible preservation efforts that will protect cultural sites sacred to numerous Native Nations.”
There has been an increase in damage by well-intentioned visitors unaware of proper etiquette around cultural sites, Ewing said. Illegal pot shard collecting is compounded by continuing impacts from free-roaming cattle, off-road vehicles, vandalism and looting.
“Many of these sites do not have the infrastructure to handle the increased visitation,” he said. “Improving and rerouting trails, fencing to keep out cattle and informational signs is needed to prevent more damage. Five years ago, many of these sites were covered in pot shards; now it is hard to find any.”
Removing artifacts is illegal, steals the experience from the next visitor and is disrespectful to Native American tribes that consider these places sacred, Ewing said.
Friends of Cedar Mesa has been working with state and federal land managers to identify high-priority projects. Work to be done over the next four years will include conservation measures, rerouting of trails, installation of “Visit with Respect” signage, construction of cattle-exclusion fencing and removal of graffiti at about two dozen sites across the greater Bears Ears region.
More accessible “front-country areas are especially hard-hit,” Ewing said, but social media postings of more remote ruins have led to increased visitation and impacts there, too.
The World Monuments contribution emphasizes the global importance of Bears Ears’ ancient Native American legacy, Ewing said.
“Even in these extraordinary times, we can work to ensure Bears Ears isn’t loved to death and these internationally significant resources are preserved forever,” he said.
Preservation efforts range from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars and are done in cooperation with federal land agencies and volunteer labor. So far, $500,000 has been raised toward the effort, especially needed in a time when land agencies are facing budget cuts from the COVID-19 pandemic.