The Deseret News recently published an op-ed highlighting some of the common misconceptions about the Bears Ears designation.
In the essay, the author stated there is a “list of multiple federal laws that have been established to ensure the protection of these sites and the way of a national monument was unnecessary.”
While there are laws to aid in the management of antiquities, the Antiquities Act is the most substantial means of preserving them, which includes the president’s authority to designate national monuments. While there are other pieces of legislation dealing with antiquities, they do not necessarily provide adequate protections for the rich history of the Bears Ears.
For example, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that land management agencies make a “good faith effort” to mitigate the potential impacts development may have to cultural sites when leased. This may not require the agency to consider cumulative impacts (vandalism/looting from increased access on new development roads, erosion, direct visual impacts, etc).
Furthermore, with little on-the-ground documentation, on-the-ground survey work may not be conducted until after the lease sale is finalized. In other words, if important cultural sites are found in this process, they sustain obligations to the sale of the lease. While the agency will try to mitigate impacts, how they are mitigated has been historically vague. There have been a few circumstances in which sites, including rock art and 3,000-year-old footprints preserved in mud, were directly bulldozed. In these cases, thorough documentation was considered as a sufficient “good faith effort” and construction resumed. More commonly, though, roads and transportation corridors are developed or dramatically improved near the sites discovered in the process, sometimes within 150 feet, dramatically increasing access to these sensitive resources.
On another point, the author asserted that other national monuments, specifically Wupatki National Monument, “restricted a lot of things the Navajos could do in this area, making it near impossible to continue their way of life.” While I have no formal comment on Wupatki, as I had no involvement or detailed information regarding its designation, it is important to note that national monuments are highly flexible means of managing exceptional resources. With varying conditions, agreements, and supporters (the Bears Ears being proposed by the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni and Ute tribes), judging one by another unrelated national monument is simply misleading. The Bears Ears National Monument is a noninvasive designation that explicitly allows traditional activities including grazing, hunting and plant gathering. It also preserves access for hiking, camping and even existing mining leases. The designation does little more than restrict development in high-density cultural areas while simultaneously providing an increase in funding for management.
Ferron, Emery County