Trump erases 1.1 million acres of Bears Ears National Monument

We’re more resolved than ever. Will you stand with us?

We’ve been bracing for this news since June, when a report by the Interior Secretary suggested large portions of the Bears Ears cultural landscape would be erased from protection as a National Monument. So, today’s action by President Trump is no surprise. Making good on his political promises, the President signed a proclamation that attempts to eviscerate more than 1.1 million of Bears Ears National Monument, an 85% reduction. This dramatic attack includes almost all of Cedar Mesa, the crown jewel of Bears Ears archaeology.

A three-story tower from the 1200s in Beef Basin. This is just one of thousands of archaeological sites, true antiquities, proposed to be removed from National Monument protection.

We outline below the places, archaeology, and recreation that will be removed from protection, at least until the courts determine this attempt is illegal. Also below is our Executive Director’s press statement.

No one ever said protecting the Bears Ears cultural landscape would be easy, and now is not the time to lose heart. The attacks on Bears Ears were to be expected given the extreme anti-federal government ideology currently in favor in Utah politics. What’s less obvious is that this news is a direct attack on the Antiquities Act, the bedrock conservation law that’s been used to protect many iconic American landscapes, like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches – all of which were unpopular locally when they were first protected.

We’re confident that the facts on the ground mean we’re on the right side of history. There’s no better place to take a stand for conservation and the Antiquities Act than Bears Ears. It’s exactly the kind of place the Act was designed to protect, despite the politics. And if we win this one, it’ll be a foundation to protect all national monuments for generations to come!

With all of this at stake, we are more resolved than ever to be the local stewards to protect this landscape – with service, with statesmanship, and with persistence – on the ground, in the courts and in the halls of Congress.

We’re ready, and we’re committed for the long haul.  We count ourselves fortunate to have one of the most respected law firms in the world, Hogan Lovells, to be representing us (along with our partner organizations) in this historic fight to protect Bears Ears and the Antiquities Act. We anticipate the legal battle to be a lengthy one, and the experience of the Hogan Lovells team will be critical to our eventual success.

Will you stand with us? This news means our fight to preserve this landscape will be a long one, requiring endurance, commitment, and lots of hard work. Huge portions of the greater Cedar Mesa area have been removed from the Monument, but that doesn’t mean visitors won’t keep coming. In fact, all the controversy guarantees visitation will continue to skyrocket. We’re stepping up to this challenge with our Bears Ears Visit with Respect Education Center, which we hope you’ll support. It’s something positive and proactive we can do while the legal fight plays out over the next several years.

President Trump is attempting to erase National Monument protection for several key regions of the Bears Ears – areas of rich scientific, historic, cultural, archaeological and recreational significance – landscapes that hold great spiritual and traditional importance for sovereign Native American nations. In fact, in the Proclamation is says many of the following areas are “are not of significant scientific or historic interest.”

A quick summary of the areas excluded from Monument protection include:

  • Almost all of Cedar Mesa, including Grand Gulch: The crown jewel of Bears Ears and the most famous archaeological areas in the Monument.
  • Tank Mesa, Cottonwood Wash and the Bluff Bench: Ancient Ancestral Pueblo great roads, rich Ute/Navajo archaeology, Bluff’s watershed, and scenic southern entrance to the Monument.
  • White Canyon and Mossback Butte area: World-class canyoneering, fascinating geology, newly discovered paleontological resources, and rich archaeology.
  • Abajo Mountains, Allen Canyon, and North Elk Ridge: Wild and pristine watershed, critical wildlife habitat, sacred hunting grounds for Ute and Navajo peoples and impressive archaeology.
  • Lockhart Basin and Harts Draw: Popular long-haul mountain biking routes, incredible geology, beautiful rock art, hundreds of climbing routes, and the eastern viewshed of Canyonlands National Park.
  • Dark Canyon Plateau and Beef Basin: Dense archaeology, critical wildlife habitat and southern viewshed of Canyonlands National Park.
  • Valley of the Gods: Dramatic sandstone spires and beautiful vistas, including 22 climbing summits and important archaeology.

It’s worth noting that these areas left unprotected are in addition to the more than a half million acres proposed for protection by the Tribes that were left out of the Bears Ears National Monument by the Obama Administration.

In response to President Trump’s executive action, 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 and the Bluff community are strong local supporters of the Monument and have first-hand experience in the backcountry throughout the Bears Ears.

Despite Secretary Zinke’s rhetoric that he believes this area is ’drop dead gorgeous‘ and all the politicians that say Bears Ears should be preserved, President Trump’s action leaves many places of enormous scientific, historic, spiritual, and recreational value unprotected and open for exploitation by out-of-state extractive corporations.

We are disappointed that the Secretary and President ignored the detailed information we provided them about the wide distribution of archaeology throughout the Bears Ears National Monument. Now, the President has taken an action that is both illegal and immoral – removing protection from objects of scientific and historic value protected by President Obama’s proclamation.

This recommendation shows great 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 the Antiquities Act was created to protect. 

We believe this move to erase protections and consequentially open large areas of Bears Ears to industrialization is unlawful and irresponsible. We will utilize all tools available to protect this landscape – everything from opening a Bears Ears Visit with Respect Education Center to on-the-ground education/monitoring and defending the Bears Ears National Monument in court.

Removing National Monument protections for these key parts of the Bears Ears without replacing them 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 the President’s action 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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