Monuments, Tourism and the Environment- Jim Stiles on Bears’ Ears

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune
Bears Ears buttes sit high over the surrounding canyon country in San Juan County. The formations are at the heart of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

This opinion piece by Jim Stiles was published in the Denver Post on Sunday April 9th. But when I went back to the DP couldn’t pull it so when to High Country News.

There are some interesting themes related to our recent discussion about wilderness, environmental impacts of recreation and marketing tools.

In this case, environmental groups seem to be saying that Monument designation will protect from things that are not really threats (to this parcel, in this physical/legal universe. But this seems particularly interesting about the Native Americans:

Finally, environmentalists ballyhooed that “the proclamation elevates the voices of the Native Americans.” Leaders of Diné Bikeyah had expected that they “would actively co-manage these lands side-by-side with federal agencies.” But the proclamation reveals otherwise. It is the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior who “shall manage the monument through the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.” A Bears Ears Commission “will provide guidance and recommendations on the development and implementation of management plans.” Another advisory panel.

The government added, “The (BLM) and Forest Service will retain ultimate authority over the monument.” It’s impossible to recount all the broken promises made by the U.S. government to Native Americans — going back centuries — but this sounds like yet another deception. Native Americans have no legal authority to implement their preferences for the monument’s management.

Runaway tourism was once a serious concern to environmentalists, but the issue was dropped to pursue alliances with the recreation industry. The tourism nightmare that now defines Moab still doesn’t raise the ire of Utah environmentalists. Last year, when overflow crowds lined the highway and forced Arches National Park to close its entrance station, most green groups failed to comment.

SUWA recently asked its members: “Which threats to the Red Rock worry you the most? The choices were “Utah’s land grab?” “Mining and drilling?” “Off-road vehicle abuse?” “Road proliferation?” The impacts from industrial tourism were not even listed as an option.

Do the remaining wildlands of southeast Utah deserve protection? Yes, absolutely. Are there other options to do the job besides the creation of a national monument? Consider these:

*Strictly enforce the archaeological protection law. A monument might generate more funding for increased staff, but only if it experiences massive increases in visitation and damage. So instead of building extravagant visitor centers and costly “improvements,” create an ”ARPA Protection Unit” of trained rangers from the Inter-Tribal Coalition, the BLM and Forest Service. The new rangers could target the areas most vulnerable to vandalism and protect Native American practices and rituals.

*Seek honest and enforceable ways to empower Native Americans. Toothless advisory panels are an insult.

*Withdraw all oil and gas leases that are commercially marginal within the monument boundaries. End a pointless argument.

*Demand that Utah environmentalists sever their ties to the relentless recreation economy. Tourism can be as devastating to natural values as energy development, and both must be scrutinized. Be consistent.

Unless environmentalists address these issues, we may someday discover — too late — that monument designation has helped to destroy the very qualities its supporters want to protect. Protecting the Bears Ears region is an absolute necessity. Turning it into a marketing tool to be packaged and sold is a sacrilege. Bear Ears deserves better.

4 Comments

    • Looking at the Giant Sequoia section, it sure seems like the employment numbers are ‘cooked’. Yeah, I guess if you include all the urban jobs from the Central Valley and all the agriculture that is so very far away from the Monument……..

      If you look at the areas outside of 50 miles, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Visalia, Porterville etc, that is where the unrelated job growth is. Look at towns above the valley floor and you’ll see very little growth in anything economic, over the last 15 years. Be sure to subtract the economic numbers for the National Parks AND the National Forests in that same area.

  1. Meanwhile, no one has ever answered why the Giant Sequoia National Monument needed over 300,000 acres set aside, to ‘protect’ about 10,000 acres of Giant Sequoias. Similarly, do we really need to ‘protect’ 1.2 million acres of Utah, when we have already seen decades of minimal impacts, without formal ‘hands-off’ preservation?

    I’m NOT saying that nothing needs protections, though. Maybe a careful ‘review’ might be able to make Bear’s Ears ‘right-sized’?

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