June 8, 2017

Op-Ed: What Passes and What Endures at Bears Ears

photo by: Mason Cummings

Nowhere is the tension between short and long-term values so furiously fought as on our western public lands—a multi-generational struggle around issues of sovereignty, identity, and regional or national definitions of well-being.

Shortly before leaving office, President Obama used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to confer national monument designation on 1.35 million acres of Utah's canyon lands. Five First Nation tribes had sought this designation for an area rich in native artifacts and still carrying memory of themselves in its hard places. These are the canyons in which the Navajo resisted forced relocation and these are the home to 100,000 sacred First Nation sites. Fittingly, for the first time, a monument proclamation specified the inclusion of Native Americans as advisors and in a co-management role of the monument.

This area also happens to lie in San Juan County, the poorest in Utah and one of the poorest in the nation. With a Navajo reservation at its heart, as well as expansive BLM, Forest Service and state lands holdings, only eight percent of the county is private land. Local native and non-native residents of the county regard this designation as potentially impacting their survival and even driving them from a land upon which they depend.

To ignore the feelings and animosities that run justifiably deep around modern-day monument designations is to abbreviate story into propaganda and polemic.

The residents of Utah and their representatives, as well as federal land managers, tribal representatives, and national environmental groups engaged in a long effort to bridge their differences. Within the scope of an ambitious land management plan for 18 million acres in Utah, called the Public Lands Initiative, they tried to secure greater protection for fragile and important landscapes, such as Bears Ears, while allowing others to be developed for gas and oil resources, providing jobs and tax revenues for surrounding communities.

The process was arduous, marked by both good and bad faith negotiations. Some participants rose to the occasion; others sabotaged it. In the end, the result was failure. The critical problem: in the three years of these negotiations, as new attention put a spotlight on the region, looting of Native American artifacts escalated.

President Obama stepped in and used the Antiquities Act as it was intended: to save lands of archeological, natural or historical significance when Congress fails to do so — when what is at risk is too great to squander.

This was followed by a presidential election. For the first time in our history, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to review all National Monument designations since 1996 of over 100,000 acres and make recommendations with regard to possibly rescinding some or all...

Read the rest of Roosevelt's op-ed online at The Salt Lake Tribune. Theodore Roosevelt IV is an investment banker and a conservationist. He is the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act into law on June 8, 1906.

By: Theodore Roosevelt IV

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