WASHINGTON — Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) slammed President Obama’s designation of a 1.35 million-acre national monument in southeastern Utah this week as “arrogant act by a lame-duck president.”
Lee vowed that the designation of Bears Ears National Monument “will not stand.”
The senator’s office pointed to a UtahPolicy survey at the beginning of November that found 60 percent of state residents didn’t want Obama to declare the San Juan County region protected federal land. Support for the monument was 33 percent, about double that found in polling from earlier in the year.
Eighty-one percent of the state’s Democrats want the national monument, while 81 percent of Republicans oppose it.
President Obama’s proclamation notes that the twin buttes of Bears Ears have “abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts” that “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.”
Some Navajo had protested the plan, arguing that if their sacred space became a federal monument they would be restricted from holding religious ceremonies on the buttes, as well as hunting, grazing livestock or gathering natural medicines. Obama acknowledged the native uses in the proclamation, adding that the area is “one of the most intact and least roaded areas in the contiguous United States.”
“The Bears Ears area has been proposed for protection by members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, State and tribal leaders, and local conservationists for at least 80 years. The area contains numerous objects of historic and of scientific interest, and it provides world class outdoor recreation opportunities, including rock climbing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and horseback riding,” the proclamation continued. “Because visitors travel from near and far, these lands support a growing travel and tourism sector that is a source of economic opportunity for the region.”
It added that the designated boundaries of the monument “are confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
It also established a Bears Ears Commission with one elected officer each from the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe. The proclamation says the government will work with tribes to “ensure the protection of Indian sacred sites and traditional cultural properties in the monument and provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses, consistent with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (42 U.S.C. 1996) and Executive Order 13007 of May 24, 1996 (Indian Sacred Sites), including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial use in a manner consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above.”
Obama said in a separate statement that “tribal expertise and traditional knowledge” will “help inform the management of the Bears Ears National Monument and help us to best care for its remarkable national treasures.”
“Following years of public input and various proposals to protect both of these areas, including legislation and a proposal from tribal governments in and around Utah, these monuments will protect places that a wide range of stakeholders all agree are worthy of protection,” he said. “We also have worked to ensure that tribes and local communities can continue to access and benefit from these lands for generations to come.”
But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the announcement “saddened” his home state and was “alien to the desires of the overwhelming majority of Utahns.”
“It’s also alien to the desires of the overwhelming number of Native Americans who live in this area, who will use this area, who approached us on how they wanted to function on this land. None of those desires are going to be accomplished by a monument designation,” Bishop said. “It is sad that there are special interest groups that feel that they are empowered, that feel that they can get the president to bend to their every will.”
The congressman said the designation was an “abuse of the Antiquities Act… done in secrecy and in shadows.”
“It’s a poor policy and it reflects poorly on your legacy,” he added.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune praised Obama’s action because “protected open spaces like these are vital for healthy air, water, and climate, but they also provide powerful opportunities for healing — something vitally important as people come together during this tense moment in history.”
“These designations, a response to strong tribal advocacy and years of work by local people, is a welcome reminder of the power of positive action and a chance to continue building the inclusive future we want to see in our public lands,” Brune added.