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The Bears Ears Monument: A Closer Look

By Geoff McGhee and Felicity Barringer

Native Nations Seek Monument Protections for 1.9 Million Acres in Utah — Obama Administration Designates 1.34 Million


"The Region to the Native Eye:" how an inter-tribal coalition illustrated their Bears Ears proposal in its native cultural context, minus contemporary state and federal designations. (Click to see this map at full size)

Since 1906, when Theodore Roosevelt actively championed conservation, nearly 73 million acres of land and seafloor in the United States have been designated as national monuments by different presidents. National monument status is usually granted under the Antiquities Act, which was designed to prevent harm to natural or cultural artifacts.

A coalition of southwestern Native nations has petitioned the Obama Administration to preserve 1.9 million acres of land around the Bears Ears butte in southeastern Utah as a national monument. Under the proposal, the new monument would include a museum and cultural center and would be managed by a joint federal-tribal council.

What new benefits or restrictions does monument status confer? Many of the same uses permitted on other federal lands, like grazing, bicycling, or motor-vehicle use on approved routes, although there would be more restrictions. On monument land there could be no new roads, new pipelines, new power lines or new mining claims.

The inter-tribal group has published a website describing their vision; a signature image of the site is a map of the monument and the tribal lands surrounding it, at right. Their proposal requires converting a mass of land that is federally owned — by the Bureau of Land Management, and national park and forest services — but also includes a patchwork of state land trusts, Native lands, and parcels of privately-owned land.

Here is a map showing the Bears Ears monument proposal and the diverse land ownership within Utah's San Juan County; some 37 percent of the county would be part of the monument.

Pinch and swipe or use the button to zoom in and out, and use the tilt and rotate control to move in 3D space.


Map: The Bears Ears Monument

After months of anticipation, the Obama Administration on Dec. 28, 2016 announced a national monument designation for 1.3 million acres of southwestern Utah surrounding the Bears Ears buttes. The map below has been updated to show the outlines of the official monument designation and the more expansive inter-tribal proposal submitted earlier.

Bears Ears National Monument, Dec. 2016
Area of Inter-tribal Monument Proposal
Bureau of Land Management lands
National Park Service
U.S. Forest Service
Utah state lands
Native lands
Private lands

Sources: Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (proposal boundaries and land features); State of Utah (land ownership); Conservation Biology Institute (federal land designations); United States Census Bureau (Native lands outside Utah); OpenStreetMaps via Mapbox (basemap);

Designating Monuments

The 150 national monuments dedicated by presidents in the last 110 years range in scale from a single building — for example, George Washington's birthplace, listed in 1930 — to vast stretches of surface and subsea territory.

Close to three-quarters of these national monuments lie in the American West — including Alaska and Hawaii. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the art of southwestern landscapes and the archaeology of Native sites has made that region a magnet for decisions to protect and preserve existing vistas. The proposed area for a Bears Ears National Monument lies just south of Canyonlands National Park, west of Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, and east of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a 1.7 million acre monument whose designation stoked controversy after the Clinton administration listed it in 1996.

Congress also has the power to designate monuments, and has listed 45 of them to date. Monuments can also be modified, renamed, or abolished by acts of Congress. In the 11 abolitions, lands were transferred to either federal or state management.

Not all presidents have exercised their authority to designate national monuments; of those who have, Jimmy Carter has listed by far the greatest total acreage, because he designated large tracts totalling more than 50 million acres in the nation’s largest state, Alaska, between 1978 and 1980.

Monument Designations, by Acres

Monument Designations, by Number


Source: National Park Service Archeology Program

 

Debate & the West

Should Bears Ears be designated a national monument?

The & the West blog presents four perspectives on the inter-tribal proposal put before President Obama.

Yes

Jim Enote
Zuni farmer and director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center

Yes

Anna Elza Brady
Strategist for Utah Diné Bikéyah, a Native-led nonprofit organization

No

Joe Lyman
Blanding town council member and third generation resident

 

 

Jean Struthers Los Altos Hills, CA

Responding to The Bears Ears Monument Proposal: A Closer Look

As population grows we need all the open spaces we can get. It is important to preserve the ancient artifacts for the future children to know and see.

11/17/16, 9:10am

Mary M Buxton Los Gatos, CA

Responding to The Bears Ears Monument Proposal: A Closer Look

I am a big fan of the National Parks and would love to see this area preserved as a National Monument for selfish reasons. However, there are local factions who feel their rights and way of life would be transgressed by this National Monument being established. This is eye opening to me as preserving open space and geographic / cultural landscapes has alway seemed like a virtuous thing to do. If there's anything I've learned from the recent election, it is to listen to those who feel disenfranchised. So, I hope there has been a process of community dialogue to hammer out whatever compromises possible and that it would continue. At some point, Congress will have to vote to designate this monument and then there will be winners and losers.

11/18/16, 5:48am

Dorothy Duff New Mexico

Responding to The Bears Ears Monument: A Closer Look

As retired seniors we plan a fall road trip each year and are visiting parks and monuments in the southwest. We have been to Utah the past 3 out of 5 years and we usually spend about a week. We use to camp but as we age now use hotels and BNBs. I mention this so you know we spend $ visiting Utah. We love southern Utah and would hate for the public lands to be diminished in any way which includes mining or extractions of any kind. We know what NW New Mexico looks like with all the drilling and we want the unique history and geology of Utah to be preserved. And for the Blanding representatives...we will be staying in Blanding and spending retirement income there.

7/7/2017, 8:27am

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