Our opinion: A legacy and a future, imperiled by a presidential decree
"Some people think the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington," Trump said in Utah's capital on Monday, in a speech announcing the changes. "They're wrong." The move, he said, is to "to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens."
But that's not the way John E. Echohawk, the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, sees it.
"Bears Ears signaled progress in preserving and perpetuating our thriving indigenous cultures, and advancing tribal sovereignty and self-determination," he wrote for the Huffington Post. "Sadly, Trump's actions today fit a growing pattern of discrimination that dishonors Native people, our ancestors, and all those who have fought and sacrificed in service of this sacred land."
While it might appear to those of us in green New England that the two national monuments now being threatened by the resource extraction industry are nothing but desert wasteland, not good for much other than feeding our insatiable hunger for fossil fuels, they are in fact gorgeous landscapes rich in history, both human and geological.
Bears Ears, which had first been proposed for conservation over 80 years ago, has one of the highest concentrations of cultural and archaeological sites in the nation, notes the Center for Western Priorities. "Prior to its protection, the archaeological sites in Bears Ears experience rampant looting and vandalism. President Trump's decision threatens tens of thousands of cultural and archaeological sites."
And Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument protected in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, "has been described as a `treasure trove' for paleontology, offering scientists a rare glimpse into the ancient environments of the American West. Paleontologists have discovered 25 unique dinosaur species and expect to find more; only six percent of Grand Staircase-Escalante has been surveyed by paleontologists so far."
Bears Ears was declared a national monument by President Barack Obama, one of his final actions as president, under the Antiquities Act. Five tribes — Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni — worked with the Obama administration to protect their sacred ancestral lands. If Trump's order to scale back on the designation survives court challenges, he will be first president to attempt such a move.
The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times wrote of the decision, "This is nothing more than a giveaway to mining and other extractive industries, and a favor to conservative anti-public lands Republicans in Utah."
We agree. Though these lands are more than 2,000 miles away, they belong to all of us, and they are vitally important to our nation, its history, and the identity of the indigenous peoples who thrived before the arrival of Europeans.
But it's not just about history. It's also about the economy. Those clamoring for the federal government to turn these lands over to the states are only interested in what can be extracted tomorrow and in the next few years. Once they are done tearing up the landscape, they will leave behind a mess for other generations to clean up.
What you won't hear from the champions of the extraction industries is that the recreation industry is much more vital to this region and it is sustainable.
"Outdoor recreation is among America's largest industries, contributing 7.6 million jobs and $887 billion in annual consumer spending — far outpacing the jobs and spending generated by the oil and gas industry," according to the 2017 Outdoor Industry Association Economic Report. It's also important to note that 90 percent of U.S. public lands are open to oil and gas leasing and development; only 10 percent are protected for recreation, conservation and wildlife.
It's vitally important that those of us all over the country that are concerned about our public lands support court actions challenging the Trump administration's short-sighted proclamation, because Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase aren't the only public lands in its sights. "The undoing of the Utah designations is part of a 27-monument review conducted by the at Trump's direction; more trims are likely at some of those other sites," notes the LA Times.Trump also has asked for recommendations on possible legislative changes to the Antiquities Act that would make it harder for future presidents to use it."
For those wondering how they can contribute to the fight to protect Bears Ears, the Grand Staircase and other national monuments, a number of organizations can use your help. They include Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Friends of Basin and Range, Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Utah Din Bik yah, Friends of Gold Butte, Alaska Wilderness League, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, Wild Salmon Center, Salmon State Initiative, Conservation Lands Foundation and Grand Canyon Trust.
"Bears Ears National Monument is not just for Native Americans but for all Americans," Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez said. "This is a sad day for indigenous people and for America. However, we are resilient and refuse to allow President Trump's unlawful decision to discourage us. We will continue to fight in honor of our ancestral warriors who fought for our way of life, for our culture and for our land too."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.