President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to the West last week like “Bad Santas” bearing a sack of coal for residents of Utah and Colorado.
They came to announce a weakening of Teddy Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act and dramatic changes to our national monuments and our American heritage.
As this paper’s recent article – “Trump cuts, divides Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante”– stated, “Keeping Bears Ears and Grand Staircase at their current sizes is viewed as critical to handling the increasing visitation in southeast Utah.”
Trump has given a gift to congressional Republicans, the fossil fuel industry and the minority of voters who think monuments are bad for local economies. He is slashing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and breaking them into smaller pieces while opening them up to mining and drilling – as well as to human-made damage.
The administration says that it’s better to break up Bears Ears into many small pieces. How does that make sense? They should ask their own BLM land management staff: is it easier and most cost effective to manage a single large area or several small parcels?
They say they want to protect the lands important to Native American tribes for traditional rituals, gatherings and tribal practices.
Fact is, these were the very reasons Bears Ears was established. The first and strongest proponent was the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition that represents five tribal groups in the southwest. The monument protects over 100,000 cultural sites and has the highest density of archaeological sites in the country. It represents thousands of years of human occupation. The Bears Ears Tribal Coalition originally proposed that the monument be one-half million acres more than it currently is. Fact is, Trump is removing the existing safeguards that protect these sites from looting, vandalism and development.
Trump and Zinke say they want to support local economies. We know that the unique cultural sites and breath-taking landscapes of our national monuments bring tourists to the area. Here in Southwest Colorado, towns rely on visitors to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.
“Heritage Tourism” is now a major economic driver in the Four Corners region. Well managed heritage tourism is a job-creating, small business supporting, safe and non-polluting industry that leaves the area improved. Fact is, shrinking a national monument means shrinking our local economies as well.
Trump and Zinke say they want to support expanded mineral extraction in the area. How does one measure irreplaceable Native American heritage, the tourism economy, and the peace and beauty of Bears Ears against fossil fuel extraction?
The administration clearly tips the scale in favor of rigs and wells with the recent announcements that the Bureau of Land Management will offer new drilling leases gas near three national monuments in Utah and Colorado.
In addition, leases adjacent to Chaco Canyon are up for grabs, threatening a uniquely important and fragile World Heritage site in New Mexico that was the economic and spiritual center of the Pueblo world one thousand years ago.
The administration says that the designation of Bears Ears did not have “sufficient public input.” Fact is, we know that there was tremendous opportunity to weigh in. The majority of local people want public lands for public use, and we want the sites of our shared ancient American past to be safeguarded for the future. A recent national poll of voters showed that they value American heritage as the number one reason for protecting our public lands.
We don’t want a sack of coal for the holidays. As our gift, we want the multiple benefits of peace and beauty, recreation, and the protection of our irreplaceable shared heritage that our current, intact national monuments provide.
Deborah Gangloff, Ph.D. is President and Chief Executive Officer of Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.