FILE: Given what appears to be yet another politicalized, congressional failure, we believe a national monument designation by President Barack Obama is our best chance to ensure protection of these sacred lands.
In the United States we’ve been fortunate to have had previous leaders take the long view, take risks on our behalf, and get some things right. President Lincoln helped join the country together with the transcontinental railroad, and President Eisenhower continued to integrate the economy with the creation of the interstate highways.
One thing Teddy Roosevelt helped us get right was preserving public lands for collective use, stewardship and enjoyment. He left us a legacy of the preservation of the greatest American landscapes for decades and centuries to come. These bold conservation moves have put us a step ahead of other countries in the world in preserving what needs to be enjoyed and protected. Like all Utahns, we feel blessed that we live close enough to some of the most spectacular of these public lands, where our families recreate and to which they escape regularly.
As Utah legislators, we’re delighted to see that the state tourism’s Mighty 5 Utah National Parks and “Take the Road to Mighty” campaigns are not only attracting people to enjoy Utah’s great outdoors; they are showing us that parks, monuments and other public lands can be a major boon to our economy, as well as our image.
This brings us to the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. After attending the public hearing on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative in Bluff, we both broke bread with Native Americans from the Inter-Tribal Coalition behind Bears Ears. We stood at a lookout on the top and surveyed Cedar Mesa. We looked over canyons with some of the world’s richest collections of Native American history — and that are not protected by the PLI. Perhaps this is because Bishop wants to keep them unprotected in the hopes that there will be uranium mining in the area again someday. What a tragic loss. The PLI bill is actually a step backward in land protection for Bears Ears, and we fear it is full of poison pills. Meanwhile, time does matter, as the looting of artifacts and damage to ancient sites continue.
Given what appears to be yet another politicized congressional failure, we believe a national monument designation by President Barack Obama is our best chance to ensure protection of these sacred lands. We are excited to see the creation of a new kind of national monument, a monument co-managed by the Native Americans whose spiritual and cultural history resides in the monument, who will help interpret the spiritual power and knowledge of the place to visitors.
Roosevelt said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”
Pondering this leads us to join the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in asking Obama to establish the Bears Ears National Monument and protect this remarkable place and its treasure trove of history and culture.
Rep. Brian King is the minority leader in the Utah House of Representatives. Rep. Joel Briscoe is the minority assistant whip in the Utah House of Representatives.