Don’t Mess With Bears Ears
By Mark Butler
February 23, 2017
Originally published in the Morning Consult.
Anticipating the Trump administration might share their anti-park sentiments, the Utah state legislature recently voted to urge President Donald Trump to rescind the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. On Feb. 3, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert signed the resolution — which if carried out would be both unprecedented and unpresidential.
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, comprised of more than 1,200 former National Park Service employees, unequivocally objects to any form of dismantling of Bears Ears by this or any administration. On so many levels, it’s just plain wrong for America.
According to the 100-year-old Antiquities Act, a president may proclaim national monuments on national public lands that contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest.” Bears Ears more than fits the criteria.
The region contains an incredible diversity of wonders: hundreds of thousands of Native American relics and cultural sites, some prehistoric; sacred burial grounds; incomparable views of sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops; and two imposing “bears ears” buttes rising 2000 feet from the Colorado Plateau. Protection of the area was sought after for years by a coalition of local Native American tribes that have ancestral ties to Bears Ears.
President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906 for good reason. He knew that if he waited for the slow process of congressional approval, the damage to special places — whether from looting or development — would be irreversible. Since then, the courts have upheld the use of the Antiquities Act, and it has been used by 16 presidents — eight Republican and eight Democratic — to conserve sites as significant as the Statue of Liberty, African Burial Ground, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and Harriet Tubman’s Birthplace. In fact, four of the five National Parks in Utah — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef and Zion — were originally protected using the Antiquities Act. Today, legal scholars concur that no president has the power to unilaterally abolish a national monument designated under the Antiquities Act. Such an action can only be accomplished by Congressional legislation.
Might President Trump attempt to rescind Bears Ears rather than be guided by our shared American values of stewardship, of appreciation for our best-in-the-world national parks and monuments, of a moral responsibility to protect our history and heritage for our children and grandchildren? What a huge waste of time and taxpayer dollars it would be to pursue a fruitless course to undo any national park or national monument designation.
Better he visit and enjoy our national parks and monuments, and be awe-inspired by the stories they tell of American heroes, ingenuity, and hope in the face of adversity, just as millions of American families do each year.
Our system of national parks, monuments and other public lands is the best in the world. It is our job as citizens and stewards to ensure it has adequate funding and protections, and that it welcomes and inspires all people — including the president. We urge him to see America’s natural and cultural wonders for himself. That experience will embolden him to ensure none of our breathtaking landscapes, prized hunting and fishing areas, historic battlefields, or Native American cultural sites is looted, paved over, mined or drilled.
Mark Butler is a member of the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and 38-year veteran of the National Park Service. He most recently served as the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park.
Originally published on February 23, 2017 in the Morning Consult.