OP-ed by Janet Wilcox. Written in response to Antiquities Act Anniversary Charleston Gazette
More Million Acre Monuments in the West Cause More Disparity between East and West
For those living in the east, where most land is privately owned, and where parks and historic monuments are confined to reasonable sizes, [as specifically proscribed in the Antiquities Act] it may seem strange that Utah has been vigorously fighting the Bears Ears Monument. But San Juan County where this 1.3 Million acre National Monument lies has some of the roughest, unfriendly land in the west. Early cowboy, Al Scorup emphasized, “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow” (or a tourist, we might add.) Well-funded environmental web sites (SUWA, FCM, Sierra Club, GCTF) sites like to paint Bears Ears with with strokes of a romanticized West with its wide open spaces, roughhewn rocks, ancient dwellings, deserts, mountains and starry skies. On the other hand, they may go for the fear factor, claiming rampant desecration of sacred sites, fear of oil pumps and hence the need for more protection of lands already multi-layered with existing BLM and Wilderness protections. Neither image accurately describes Bears Ears territory.
Though San Juan is the largest county in Utah (at 7,933 square miles, it’s bigger than many eastern states) only 8 % of the county is privately owned. What if the county where you live only had 8% of its land available for business development, and jobs? What if the land in your state was 64.9% controlled by the federal government? How would that impact state and county tax revenues as well as the funding of your schools, the upkeep of roads, and infrastructure, and funding for Search and Rescue teams? The disparity between eastern vs. western states and their potential for self-governance and sovereignty is negatively affected when millions of acres of land become controlled by more federal bureaucracy in the form of a National Monument. This chart illustrates the great disparity in the West.
Public land has been managed in Utah by the BLM and US Forest Service for decades; they allow grazing rights, mineral leases, lumbering, etc. all of which helped to stabilize western economy. In addition, those agencies protect beautiful vistas, and ancient ruins. However, when yet another layer of restrictions, via a Monument is added, the swamp of a self-serving bureaucracy reaches even deeper into the state of Utah. Like our Navajo and Ute compatriots, we no longer trust the tangled web of promises made by a debt ridden federal government. Many parts of this monument range from 6000 to 12,000 feet with long snowy winters. This is not your tourist friendly Concord Bridge, or Gettysburg. Many Ute, Navajo, Hispanic and Anglos who reply on wood for heating during 6 months of the year, must have access to fallen timber to make it through the winter, something that most monuments do not allow.
On Oct. 5, 2016 the National Trust of Historic Preservation issued a press release stating, that “the Bears Ears region has been added to its 2016 list of 11 most endangered historical places.” To the unwary mind, “historical preservation” seems like something we should all believe in. But believe me, this is not a national organization you can “trust.”
Why did the federal government shift from preserving historic buildings and sites, to lassoing vast Utah landscapes like the Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears? The antiquities act of 1906 was designed to protect specific features under immediate threat, not to be used as a landscape management tool. The Obama administration overused this executive ax, hacking away at state sovereignty throughout the nation. The U.S. is now dealing with a $20 Trillion debt. For the past two years, National Parks and Monuments were under a two-year deferred maintenance totaling nearly $11.5 Billion. Utah alone was behind $278,094,606 in park maintenance. There is no money to support EXISTING parks, much less new ones.
San Juan County is already home to six of those federal destinations: Natural Bridges Nat’l Monument, Hovenweep Nat’l Monument,, Canyonlands National Park, Dark Canyon Wilderness area, Grand Gulch Wilderness area, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We have learned from others’ mistakes, that tourist destinations have a heavy negative impact on public lands, especially when fragile ruins are part of that landscape. Enough is enough.