Bears Ears National Monument is a beautiful vista, a huge Utah tourist attraction, and a cultural and spiritual homeland for five tribal nations. In 2016, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to protect the area by declaring Bears Ears a national monument. Then in 2017 President Trump cut the size of Bears Ears by nearly 85 percent. Removing these protections was not only environmentally dangerous but also marked an assault on sacred land. Our natural world unites us, so we are all responsible to protect our nation’s significant and vulnerable lands
On President Biden’s first day in office, he ordered a review to “determine whether restoration of the monument boundaries and conditions would be appropriate.” The Secretary of State for the Interior Deb Haaland has recently traveled to Bears Ears and, according to reports, has recommended President Biden restore the original boundaries of the monument. We fully support this decision and hope the President will reuse the Antiquities Act to protect this special place.
Bears Ears is a national treasure. Its beauty dominates the Utah landscape— miles of red sandstone, stripes of ponderosa pines and juniper trees, hundreds of inimitable rock formations and outcroppings. The rich combination of color and shape is usually unseen outside of oil paintings. Bears Ears’ scenery is something to be revered and protected.
Along with its natural splendor, Bears Ears is rich in history. Archaeologists have found fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years, and hundreds of thousands of archaeologically significant objects are buried within monument bounds. Bears Ears is also culturally significant to many tribes. It is the ancestral homeland of five tribal nations whose current members still use the land for traditional and ceremonial purposes. The area includes gravesites, ceremonial grounds, ancient cliff dwellings and cave art. These five tribes— the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni— all lobbied President Obama to designate 1.35 million acres as a national monument.
Photo: Jeff Sullivan via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Bears Ears is vital not just for its own biodiversity but for its role in surrounding ecosystems. The area protected by the monument’s boundaries is home to all five classes of vertebrates and several endangered species including the Mexican spotted owl and the southwestern willow flycatcher. It hosts eagles, owls and more than 15 species of bats and prized elk,mule deer and bighorn sheep populations. This fauna is not without flora. The area’s diverse soils and rich microenvironments allow dozens of plant species to prosper.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans flocked to our public lands, and after months of quarantine, we can expect more people will travel to our iconic parks and monuments this summer. As we renew our love for the great outdoors, we should also bring our sense of responsibility to keep these natural spaces great.
President Biden should follow Secretary Haaland’s recommendation and restore full protections to Bears Ears. The original 1.35 million acres are vital to protect the area’s environmental riches, archaeological significance and cultural sanctity.
Conservation America Campaign, Associate, Environment America Research & Policy Center