The opinion by the Utah Congressional Delegation, published Jan. 24, regarding the president’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, contradicts the wishes and desires of the majority of Utahns and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition who supported the monument. The opinion also misguides the monument’s future and misstates an executive’s rescission authority.
The opinion ignores the wishes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and the majority of Utah citizens who supported monument designation. The coalition petitioned the president to designate the monument because it would protect the spiritual and cultural values of the five tribes who live there. Further, multiple polls of Utah residents supported monument designation. Only now, in response to harsh rhetoric by hyper-partisan legislators, are some Utahns questioning designation.
However, another post-designation poll of Utahns shows more support than opposition by a sizable margin. The Utah delegation is incorrect and off base to suggest lack of grass-roots support. Utahns have supported monument designation in the past and continue to do so.
The opinion also misguides because it threatens rescission and litigation instead of the far wiser course of coalescing behind the new monument. First and foremost, Utah should work with the Inter-Tribal Coalition that petitioned for the monument to help preserve the tribes’ cultural heritage in these sacred lands. In addition, Utah should take advantage of educational, scientific, outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities for local residents and businesses. Utah should also help fund our schools by exchanging school trust lands within the monument for more valuable BLM lands elsewhere, as prior governors and congressional delegations have done. Instead of misguided executive action and litigation, the delegation should be supportive, using the monument to advance tribal, Utahns’ and broader public interests.
The opinion misstates the law because no national monument has ever been undone through executive action. In fact, the attorney general of the United States opined the president does not have authority to abolish a national monument. That opinion stopped in its tracks President Roosevelt’s consideration of possibe abolition of a national monument in South Carolina.
Finally, the opinion’s recitation of opposing views by a miniscule minority of tribal opponents is inaccurate. The collective voice of the five tribes who support the monument speaks far louder than a few disgruntled tribal members. In fact, the Inter-Tribal Coaltion will partner in monument mangement, belying false claims of far away bureaucratic direction. This arrangement will ensure protection of these spiritual grounds and the tribes’ cultural and customary practices there, including wood and other plant gathering. Finally, far from ignoring Native American interests, the president followed them, after extensive courting of local opinions through multiple meetings with tribal, local and other parties, including 1,400 supporters and opponents who attended a public meeting in Bluff, Utah.
In sum, a majority of Utah residents and the Inter-Tribal Coalition fully support monument designation. The Utah congressional delegation should heed voters’ majority wishes, curtail their carping and work to support our new Bear Ears National Monumant.
David Tunderman worked in both state and federal government for 10 years, followed by 30 years in private environmental practice. He lives in Salt Lake City and enjoys outdoor activities in southern Utah, including the Bears Ears National Monument.