Friday, December 30, 2016

Bear's Ears Becomes a Reality! Now the Real Fight Must Begin

An incredible thing just happened, something I've always hoped for, but thought was well nigh impossible. The Bears Ears National Monument has become a reality! President Obama declared the monument under the authority of the Antiquities Act, which allows the president of the United States to protect endangered areas of cultural and natural importance.
Source: http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/bears-ears-national-monument-map
The new monument protects 1.35 million acres of the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah between the San Juan River and Canyonlands National Park. It includes one of the most significant archaeological regions in the United States, preserving a record of human occupation going back thousands of years. Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and others preserve spectacular cliff dwellings and cities, but they are relatively small parks that cannot provide a full record of the human history of the region. Cedar Mesa and other parts of the Bears Ears country have long been recognized as a critical repository of knowledge regarding the comprehensive history of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Their descendants still live in the region to this day, and it is they who have perhaps pushed hardest for the monument designation. The reasons are obvious: the archaeological record and the cultural history of the people is in clear danger of disappearing forever. Their heritage is being plundered.
For years, local people have been destroying archaeological sites hunting for pots and other artifacts to sell on the black market. It's literally part of the local economy. It's incredibly illegal, but the rangers of the Bureau of Land Management are too few to patrol the vast region, and they and their families have been threatened with increasing frequency. It was a situation that needed to be changed, and the designation of the monument offers some hope that these sites could be better protected from desecration.

It may be hard for some people to understand how profoundly disturbing the attack on a people's heritage can be. Years ago, when I was on a raft trip on the San Juan River, the oarsman, a local resident, described how he had a mummified child hidden in his garage, not to mention a number of pots and arrowheads. A mummified child! Perhaps one can imagine finding graveyards across the United States plundered on a regular basis, by people seeking jewelry or gold teeth. Imagine finding that a the body of a deceased son or daughter was on display in someone's personal "museum". Those are the kinds of stakes involved here.
It's a strange thing. The vast majority of the people of Utah (and the rest of the country) have indicated support for the Bears Ears. The vast majority of the Native Americans in the region support the protection of the region. They've worked for years to plan the boundaries and administration of the park. Those opposed? The Republican Congressional delegation. The governor of Utah, and the state legislature. Why? They want the land given to the state of Utah to be sold off, for mining, for logging, or simply to be sold off for state funding purposes. They've called it a "land grab", but these are lands that belonged first to the Native Americans of the region, and later, to the American people through the federal government under the Bureau of Land Management. It does not belong to the state of Utah, and they have no true claim to it. This land needs to be managed for the good of all the people of the country, not the privileged few. The monument designation is the best approach, but it would be a greater idea for congress to declare the region a national park.
The news of the establishment of the new monument is thrilling to a great many people, but Barack Obama is president only for a few more weeks, and the power of the presidency is going to pass on to a man who is neither knowledgeable or appreciative of the value of this land to the many stakeholders in the monument. Trump only understands money and profit, and there is little doubt that his administration will try to remove the protections afforded by the monument designation. Therefore, we have a fight ahead of us. I hope that you will follow news about the monument and help protect it. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a good place to start. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is another good resource.
I haven't said much about my personal motivation for supporting this new monument. For years, I have been taking students into this region to learn geology and anthropology. I've spent many happy hours exploring the canyons and mesas, and regard the region to be the center of my spiritual universe. One could spend a lifetime here.
The Valley of the Gods (above) is a small version of Monument Valley (only a few miles north of the actual Monument Valley). The road that winds through the region is a marvelous excursion, but it is just one of many explorations possible in the region. There are also vast areas of wilderness, including the famed Grand Gulch, site of some of the most spectacular rock art in the entire southwest (not to mention the hundreds of cliff dwellings).
Cedar Mesa makes up much of the southern half of the monument. Views from the edge provide an incredible panorama of some of the greatest scenery in the United States. For years we have camped at the southern edge of the mesa, with views of Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, and the Rocky Mountains. These features are case studies for the understanding of erosional processes in arid regions. The rocks themselves preserve fossils and structures dating from the late Paleozoic era to the Mesozoic era, a time of advancing and receding seas. The fossil record includes all kinds of marine animals, and terrestrial creatures, including the dinosaurs and their ancestors.
President Obama will leave behind an legacy as one of the greatest environmentalists in our country's history. He has established nearly 30 monuments covering millions of acres, a heritage that protects long neglected landscapes that represent the best of our country. I'm hopeful that the politicians of Utah will finally come to realize the treasure that they possess (there is, after all, plenty of money that can be made from the proper promotion of parks and monuments). One can only dig up the coal or uranium once before the resource is lost forever, and the land is wasted more or less for all time. This new national monument is a gift that will last through coming time, while simultaneously preserving the heritage of a people from times past. And under all of it lies the abyss of geologic time, as preserved in the rocks themselves. It is a precious land.

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