Pressure is growing on newly confirmed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to visit the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, not to enjoy its spectacular landscapes and irreplaceable archaeological and cultural sites, but to reassess whether it should have been protected in the first place. We thank the tribes, local communities and elected officials who took the time to speak out and engage in dialogue so we could arrive at the Bears Ears designation. Now it is time for us to step into the discussion to defend this crucial protection that remains under attack.
Together as an evangelical and a Mormon, we believe that our stewardship of the Creation requires judicious use of earth’s resources for human benefit and enjoyment of natural beauty.
We believe that America’s public lands are national treasures because they help balance our need for consumption with our need for appreciation of nature. Not only are our public lands essential for conserving life but for deepening our connection with God. We know that the majority of Christians are inspired by his wonderful creation displayed throughout our national parks, monuments and forests.
As Christians, we also revere and honor America’s indigenous communities and heritage. We want no part of legislation or attitudes that are demeaning to or dismissive of their sovereignty, their respect for the sanctity of creation, or their history. The Bears Ears National Monument is a tribute to Utah’s rich indigenous past and recompense for its frequent neglect in the present. We rejoice that the designation provides five sovereign tribal governments with ancestral or current ties to the region and a formal role in its management. We are pleased that the designation balances protection of beauty with a protection of rights for hunting, grazing, gathering, wood cutting, hiking and other uses that will be a stimulus for Utah’s outdoor recreation economy.
We are especially disappointed by the continued efforts of Utah’s congressional delegation to encourage President Trump to abolish or rescind the Bears Ears National Monument. Their view is that this designation compromises the sovereignty of the state of Utah, even though it formally protects what was already public land and is smaller than the proposal by Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Make no mistake: their efforts are not motivated by a desire to be good stewards but by an ideological struggle over state’s rights and the status of the Antiquities Act. These efforts make Bears Ears nothing more than a political football.
We are grateful for our legacy of national parks and monuments. We believe that such designations answer the Christian call to be good stewards of God’s creation. As stewards of our shared lands and as brothers in a common faith, we voice our strong opposition to efforts to dismantle the Bears Ears National Monument. As we are taught in Romans 1:20, God’s power and love are evident in his many creations. It is our duty to preserve those places that best capture that power for our children and our children’s children.
Mitch Hescox is president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. George Handley is an author and founding board member of LDS Earth Stewardship.