Bears Ears: Correcting an off-base argument

In the debate over a national monument, don’t be swayed by myths.

 

Nathan Nielson’s opinion piece, “A National Monument is a Heavy-handed Solution for Bears Ears” (HCN 10/31/16) is made from whole cloth. 

The yarns Neilson spins are of “federal absorption,” of vandalism run amok; of neglect and economic crisis; of future limitations placed on the gathering of wood, herbs and piñon nuts; of a lack of support for a Bears Ears National Monument; and of a coming massive restriction of livestock grazing as at the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. 

They are all myths. National monuments can only be designated on federal lands already owned by all Americans – the federal government is not “absorbing” any land. Neilson falsely reports all 1,400 cases of visitor contact with law enforcement in 2015 at Grand Staircase-Escalante as cases of “rock defacement” with no backing whatsoever. Far from crisis, economies have grown around Grand Staircase, and business and tax receipts are on the rise.

Neilson states too, that roads cannot be graded, vegetation cannot be maintained, and springs cannot be cleaned in national monuments. These activities occur regularly at our national monuments. Wood will be gathered, herbs collected, and ceremonies performed at Bears Ears, all protected in the monument proclamation as they have been in all recent monuments designated by President Barack Obama. Some 220,000 people have signed petitions in support of designating Bears Ears a national monument, and its protection holds the support of elected officials and 26 sovereign Native American Tribes. 

Utah Juniper at Bears Ears in San Juan County, Utah.
Brewbooks/Flickr user

The author laments a 31 percent reduction in grazing at Grand Staircase – a non-existent “fact.” The Bureau of Land Management says that permitted Animal Unit Months (AUMs – a cow and a calf pair) were 77,200 when the Staircase was designated. Today, 76,900 are available, even after thousands of AUMs were willingly sold by ranchers. This means livestock grazing has actually increased in other parts of the monument, despite a decade of crippling drought.

Neilson is wildly misleading in his faith in Utah Republican House Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. It absolutely will not pass in the 16 legislative days remaining in the 114th Congress. He flagrantly mischaracterizes it. Neilson writes PLI is “…a locally driven process designed to balance the interests of ranchers, energy developers, environmentalists, hikers and tribes.” But documented history shows that the last three groups were denied a seat at the table in crafting the PLI. The legislative effort was dominated by the mineral interests and ranchers. Bears Ears would be ruined forever if the PLI were to pass. 

The true promise of Bears Ears National Monument lies in protecting forever this wondrous red rock landscape. It is coupled with the profound gift offered by the tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition – that Native American Traditional Knowledge is shared, and that Indigenous people reclaim their rightful authority to help manage their ancestral lands. Bears Ears, which will become one of the most compelling and distinctive monuments or parks, has inestimable worth. Protect it now or it will be a main target of the Trump Administration. 

Charles Wilkinson, Distinguished Professor and Moses Lasky Professor of Law at University of Colorado, is the author of many books including “Fire on the Plateau: Conquest and Endurance in the American Southwest.”  

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.