Mike Godfrey, At Home in Wild Spaces
Section of the Colorado River marking the northern boundary of President Obama's Bears Ears National Monument designation, cut from monument lands under President Trump's alterations.

Paul Jakus’s Aug. 22 response to Sen. Mike Lee’s editorial promoting Senate Bill 3193, the PURE Act, does not really challenge the senator’s ill-informed argument that the Antiquities Act allows the creation of national monuments that bring costly “restrictions on travel, recreation and economic opportunities.”

Jakus claims that large national monuments have no “aggregate economic effect, either positive or negative.” Instead, he suggests that the national monuments simply allow the shift of economic activity from one set of industries to another set of industries, with no significant change in per capita income.

Per capita income is an incomplete measure of county or regional economic health. We need to be creating local entrepreneurship opportunities, generating more diverse economies at the county level and promoting resilient and sustainable economic development. Unfortunately, Utah’s congressional delegation considers resource extraction as the only value of public lands. If we, like Sen. Lee, see national monuments as costly burdens, we are going to limit many of our rural economies to resource extractive industries with absentee employers whose corporate bottom lines overrule local job stability. We will continue the boom and bust episodes that make orderly community development virtually impossible.

Most of rural America has failed to recover from the Great Recession. Communities that are rebounding have recognized that the industries they formerly relied upon for jobs are not coming back. These communities are reinventing their economic base and are finding niches where they can thrive. The communities continuing on a downward spiral are typically blaming others for the loss of their industries and wasting time trying to revive dying economic sectors.

The elected officials who believe that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments have hurt their local economies are failing to recognize significant new economic opportunities. San Juan County, for example, is Utah’s only persistent poverty county, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county has a high rate of out migration of its young people. It relies extensively on oil, gas and mining companies located in other states and nations. County officials opposing Bears Ears National Monument could instead be diversifying their economy through locally owned businesses that thrive in other areas with accessibility to state and federally protected landscapes.

The 85 percent reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument acreage is another broken promise to Native American tribes, who worked together and with state and federal officials to protect their cultural heritage and restore their sacred connection to the land. At its 1.35 million acre-size, Bears Ears could have created new economic opportunity for Native Americans and substantially reduced the poverty that hurts all San Juan County residents and the entire Four Corners region.

The reconfiguring and size reduction of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument got support from the fossil fuel industries and those who believe access to the coal deposits on the Kaiparowits Plateau will create jobs. Access to Kaiparowits will not magically turn the coal into an economic resource. A massive Kaiparowits coal mine and power plant proposal died in the mid-1970s and coal economics have gone downhill ever since.

2 comments on this story

Communities that have responded to the new opportunities associated with the national monuments are thriving. There are new construction projects, new businesses and improving economic diversity. The common belief that the tourism economy only supports low-wage jobs is not correct. It certainly includes low-wage positions, but also creates greater opportunity for establishing locally owned businesses. The beautiful, unspoiled Bears Ears could become a unique opportunity to preserve, appreciate and economically benefit from the rich cultural heritage, arts and traditions created by the native people of this special place.