Different media outlets explain how the majority of San Juan County’s non-reservation land became the latest national-monument proposal. Over a century ago, the Antiquities Act gave presidents the authority to declare archaeological sites as monuments because other protections were not yet available.
In the Salt Lake Tribune, Terry Tempest Williams defers to five tribes “calling for the protection of 1.9 million acres adjacent to Canyonlands … The tribes are asking each of us to acknowledge an embodied intelligence born of the land that warrants as much respect and protection as the wilderness, itself.”
Apparently monuments are a panacea for all people and places, because Scott Groene wishes they would cover each county in eastern Utah. In the Salt Lake Tribune, he hopes that, “This time it will be President Obama, and the Bears Ears National Monument. And next time, next president? Maybe the San Rafael Swell. The Dirty Devil region after that. Desolation Canyon.”
Likewise, the Deseret News prints editorials from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, but they also follow up with investigation by Amy Joi O’Donoghue. She finds that Rep. Rob Bishop is currently refining the Public Lands Initiative bill to guarantee that tribes will have influence over a Bears Ears National Conservation Area. She writes, “Bishop said the co-management authority the tribes seek through a monument designation isn’t possible … ‘The biggest problem I have, what has surprised me, is the inability of getting people to truly compromise. That has been a harder process than I thought it would be,’ he said.”
In a separate article, O’Donoghue explains why compromise might be out of reach. She states that, halfway through the PLI process, “the push for a monument designation started down an alternative path trod by players still at the negotiating table.”
These clashing commitments were exposed by the San Juan County Commission when hosting Secretary Jewell last month. They quoted a board meeting of the Conservation Lands Foundation, which required that anyone receiving grants “must further CLF goals, which include a 1.9-million acre Bears Ears National Monument.” CLF grant recipients included Utah Diné Bikeyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa, environmental groups that participated in the PLI, which implies there was a chance that they would support the outcome. Yet they had committed to the Bears Ears monument long before officially bowing out of the PLI.
A third media source is Williams’ new book, “The Hour of Land.” She describes the 2014 inception of a Bears Ears proposal when Groene asked Jonah Yellowman, a board member of Utah Diné Bikéyah, “how he felt about the north boundary being extended up through Canyonlands. ‘The more land the better,’ Jonah said.”
Yet not all Utah conservation groups have been so quick to embrace a monument by presidential proclamation. After The Nature Conservancy continued supporting the PLI process last month, Williams’ Twitter account scolded them for staying on the legislative track. SUWA is famous for its “uncompromising advocacy for wilderness preservation.” Its media director has a professional website entitled “Deride and Conquer.” Officially, this strategy applies only to the PLI authors, yet anyone who participates in collaboration winds up guilty by association.
The U.S. government certainly has a deplorable history with Native Americans based on an attempt to deny the humanity of their cultures. As a Bilag’aana proud of his Diné family members, I’d suggest that any Tribal Elder recommending more government is suspect.
Regardless, proclaiming a monument to be co-managed by tribes will become yet another broken promise, since the president simply can’t transfer that authority.
What a Bears Ears monument would deliver is yet another blow to the lifestyle and livelihood of rural people of all ethnicities. Rural populations have become their own kind of minority in the U.S. They tend to have a relationship with the land that’s more complex and close than urban populations that view nature as a postcard rather than the source of all our resources. They may not describe their town’s surroundings as sacred, but this love of place shields them from the allure of higher wages in more urban places. Because local people are more affected by public-land decisions, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service were designed to give them somewhat more say, but monument proclamation would erode this input even further.
The wisdom of a local perspective could have been learned by environmentalists back when Glen Canyon was dammed. The Sierra Club’s David Brower said he regrets his “horrible mistake of being willing to sacrifice Glen Canyon in order to save Dinosaur and Echo Park simply because I didn’t know what was in Glen Canyon.”
Yet instead of concluding that he should visit the land and local people before making tradeoffs, Brower concludes that he should refuse to compromise anywhere. By 2000, Brower’s course compelled Owen Severance to write “Why I Don’t Belong to SUWA or the Sierra Club” in the Canyon Country Zephyr.
Today, Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M. is collapsing the enrollment of local schools. Now Groene proposes to proclaim monuments all around Glen Canyon and every river that feeds it. Engulfing each county, these monuments would alienate people who live closest to the land.
Dave Cozzens was a founding board member of Ride With Respect and Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation. He currently serves on the board of the Utah Shared Access Alliance.