Obama Creates Two National Monuments in Southwest

Move was widely expected, but conservationists, environmentalists rejoice nonetheless


That President Barack Obama has been considering creating a new national monument on Cedar Mesa in southern Utah has been no great secret, but fans of federal public lands were thrilled today when Obama actually went through with it and signed the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in being and also created the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

“For hundreds of generations,” Obama’s Bears Ears proclamation says, “native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe.”

The national monument will be co-managed by representatives of five tribes—a first.

“I am designating two new national monuments in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes. Importantly, today I have also established a Bears Ears Commission to ensure that tribal expertise and traditional knowledge help inform the management of the Bears Ears National Monument and help us to best care for its remarkable national treasures.”

Cedar Mesa and the twin buttes of the Bears Ears have exploded in popularity in the last five years, with backpackers, hikers, and ATVers exploring its complex and fragile canyon systems. The area contains an estimated 56,000 archaeological sites and until today was the least protected culturally rich area in the States.

The move was immediately blasted by opponents, including Utah congressional delegation, which gathered at the state capital to present a united front against Bears Ears. Rep. Rob Bishop has been working for years to create what he called a “grand bargain” for the land around Bears Ears, but critics said that his plan was a giveaway to oil and gas interests that would do little to protect the area from development.

“The midnight monument is a slap in the face to the people of Utah,” said Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, “attempting to silence the voices of those who will bear the heavy burden it imposes,” he said, vowing to work with the Trump administration to try to repeal the decision. “It does not have the support of the Governor, a single member of the state’s Congressional delegation, nor any local elected officials or state legislators who represent the area.”

Utah’s Senator Mike Lee said during a December 13 Facebook Live discussion, “I want to make clear, if heaven forbid this does happen, I will work tirelessly with the incoming Trump administration to make sure that this national monument never gets off the ground; to make sure it is undone, that is defunded, unwritten, rewritten, repealed, whatever it is that we have to do to undo it.”

Incoming President-elect Donald Trump certainly could make the new national monuments a low priority, but is unlikely to be able to undo Obama’s action, said Christy Goldfuss, the managing director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“The Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to create monuments, but does not provide explicit authority to undo them, and since the Antiquties Act was passed in 1906, both Republican and Democratic presidents have established monuments to protect our rich heritage for historic and scientific wonders. No president has actually undone a monument created by a prior president, and courts at all levels have broadly upheld the president’s authority to designate national monuments under the act.”

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has created 29 national monuments and set aside or expanded protections for more than 550 million acres of land and water.

Read the White House proclamation on Bears Ears here.

Follow live tracking of statements on the new national monuments at the Salt Lake Tribune here.

Photo of Bears Ears area by Department of Interior (top), of Gold Butte by Steve Casimiro.

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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Showing 5 comments
  • Mike P.
    Reply

    “The midnight monument is a slap in the face to the people of Utah,” said Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, “attempting to silence the voices of those who will bear the heavy burden it imposes,” he said, vowing to work with the Trump administration to try to repeal the decision. “It does not have the support of the Governor, a single member of the state’s Congressional delegation, nor any local elected officials or state legislators who represent the area.”
    ——
    It’s hardly a surprise, and if Rep. Chaffetz and Bishop had wanted to forestall it, they could have proposed meaningful protections for the area in their Public Lands Initiative. They chose to stifle public participation and paid no heed to anything the tribes said. The tribes eventually withdrew in disgust.

    The fact that it has no local support from politicians (as opposed to the citizens, many of whom do support it, say much more about those politicians than it does about Pres. Obama.

  • Vic
    Reply

    I don’t know anything about these sites but if the local native tribes support it and the state politicians are against it then thank you President Obama. Mr. Trump will put oil wells in Yosemite and the Grand Canyon if he gets a chance.

  • Verlyn Hawks
    Reply

    Regarding the Co-Management by the tribes.
    Actually when you read the statements by the BLM posted after the proclamation was announced here it indicates that an “advisory” tribal commission will be formed to provide input but that “BLM and USFS retain ultimate authority over the monument”.
    Here is where you can read the BLM FAQ and Q/A.

    https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/BE%20QA%20Fast%20Facts_0.pdf

    From my discussions and interactions it sounds like some expected the Tribes to have active management instead of just advisory status.

  • Dan Froelich
    Reply

    Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes name dropped Teddy Roosevelt stating, “The Antiquities Act, created by Teddy Roosevelt, was never intended to be used in this way and only the smallest area necessary for the purpose of protecting significant archaeological or historical sites is allowed.”
    Completely ignoring the fact that in 1908 Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to set aside THE GRAND CANYON! Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act, from its beginning has been used in this manner. The people want the Bears Ears, and it was the people who hounded President Obama to set it aside. Our representatives in congress and at the state and local level where too interested in suckling the tit of oil and gas to set this land aside.
    Rep Rob Bishop “has been working on this for years”. This is the same Rob Bishop who supports transferring public lands to the states so it can be sold to the highest bidder (prop bill 3650). Bishop apparently worked on this for years, but somehow nothing happened.

  • Paul B
    Reply

    While I love the area and believe it should be protected, I fear for its future. The only true protection is wilderness status or obscurity. The environmental community and the tribes may come to regret their victory. Will the thousands of pristine ancient dwellings and other sites be overrun and damaged by thousands of visitors? Time will tell.

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