“Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or ‘Bears Ears.’For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas … one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States.”
— Proclamation by President Barack Obama establishing Bears Ears National Monument, Dec. 28, 2016
After seven years of organizing, the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition — made up of the Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni Nations — played a key role in securing the protection of 1.35 million acres surrounding Bears Ears from development and resource extraction just before President Obama left office.
But in our climate of political myopia, President Trump recently ordered the Interior Department to review the size and scope of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres created since 1996. He complained that these designations “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control,” called them a “massive federal land grab” and directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review and reverse some of them.
There is a subtext here, as his order made clear. Monument designations, the document said, can “create barriers to achieving energy independence” and “otherwise curtail economic growth.” Among the likely beneficiaries of any reversals are the oil and gas industries, mining and logging interests and commercial development.
In issuing this order, President Trump — who has never visited Bears Ears — apparently chose to listen to the bellicose politicians of Utah and do the bidding of Senator Orrin Hatch and Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, who complain that Utahns were cut out of the process. Call that another alternative fact. The lawmakers claim it was an endgame move by the departing President Obama to create a “midnight monument.”