Secretary Zinke recommends unprotecting parts of Bears Ears: Our response

Friends of Cedar Mesa Reaction to Secretary Zinke’s Recommendation to Reduce the Size of the Bears Ears National Monument

Today Friends of Cedar Mesa learned that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended eliminating National Monument protection for at least some of the Bears Ears landscape. While details were not released, any meaningful shrinkage of the Monument would remove protections for areas of rich scientific, historic, cultural, archaeological and recreational significance – places that hold great spiritual and traditional importance for sovereign Native American nations.

It’s worth noting that President Obama did not protect all the important archaeological, scenic and spiritually significant areas of the Bears Ears landscape. More than a half million acres that were proposed for protection by the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition were left out of the Bears Ears National Monument by the Obama Administration in its attempts to precisely designate the size of the monument in response to feedback from local and state stakeholders.

Secretary Zinke’s interim report also suggested that areas left unprotected by executive action would be recommended for National Conservation or National Recreation Area status, designations that would theoretically be bestowed by Congress at some future date – that despite congressional failure for 114 years to protect the Bears Ears region.

In response to news of Secretary Zinke’s recommendation, Friends of Cedar Mesa Executive Director Josh Ewing issued the following statement.

“Based in Bluff, Utah, we at Friends of Cedar Mesa are blessed to be able to look out our front door and see the Bears Ears National Monument. We are strong local supporters of the Monument and have first-hand experience in the back country throughout the Bears Ears.

Despite Secretary Zinke’s statements that he believes this area is ’drop dead gorgeous‘ and should be protected, his recommendation would leave many places of enormous scientific, historic, spiritual, and recreational value unprotected and open for exploitation by out-of-state extractive corporations.  While we always favored a legislative solution and worked harder than any conservation group on the Public Lands Initiative, preemptively removing protection for this landscape in blind hope that Congress might someday do its job flies in the face of history and is a recipe for a management disaster. It’s like postponing paying your mortgage hoping you’ll win the lottery.

Secretary Zinke’s recommendation now encourages the President to take action that would be both illegal and immoral – removing protection from objects of scientific and historic value protected by President Obama’s proclamation.

This recommendation shows disrespect for the international significance of the Bears Ears area – for Native American Tribes, for American history, and for recreation. Bears Ears is exactly the kind of cultural landscape – filled with real antiquities that are inextricably connected with their surroundings – that Congress intended the Antiquities Act to protect.

We believe this move to remove protections and consequentially open areas of Bears Ears to industrialization is unlawful and irresponsible. We will utilize all tools available to protect this landscape – everything from continuing on-the-ground education to defending the Bears Ears National Monument in court.

The extensive listening and public outreach undertaken by the previous administration for the Bears Ears National Monument included several days on the ground and in the wilds of Bears Ears, hundreds of discussions with stakeholders (including the Utah congressional delegation and county commissioners), public meetings for everyone to have their voice heard, and pronounced respect for Tribal sovereignty. By contrast, this recommendation ignores the voice of unified Native American Tribes, local supporters of Monument protection, and hundreds of thousands of Americans who have spoken out for keeping Bears Ears completely protected.  Despite an extremely truncated public comment period during the past two weeks, the response was overwhelmingly in support of protecting Bears Ears in its current state.

Removing National Monument protections for key parts of the Bears Ears without replacing them in advance with any practical alternative will only lead to more damage to the archaeological and natural resources of this internationally significant area. Visitation to Bears Ears has been dramatically increasing over the last decade, and the recent controversy only guarantees this trend will continue. We are concerned this recommendation and the likely executive action to follow it will only further delay much-needed visitor management and cultural resource protections while resolution of this issue languishes in the courts.”

Author: Josh Ewing

As Executive Director for Friends of Cedar Mesa, Josh advances stewardship through education, advocacy, and organizing.

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