Opinion: The monumental volley and folly of Bears Ears

Oct 8, 2021, 8:51 PM
Biden Bears Ears...
The Bears Ears in Utah's San Juan County, a 1.35 million acre region studded with tens of thousands of archaeological jewels spread across a landscape of stunning red-rock scenery. Photo credit: Mike DeBernardo, Deseret News

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

On Friday, President Joe Biden expanded both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument back to their original size, after being scaled back by then-President Donald Trump in 2017.

Read more: Indigenous leaders react to restoration of Bears Ears’ boundaries

Back and forth. And this is not the last time, either. Because what is done by executive order can be undone by executive order, and even redone.

  • On Sept. 18, 1996, using the Antiquities Act of 1906, which grants presidents the authority to set aside landmarks and “objects of historic or scientific interest.,” President Bill Clinton, establishes 1.7 million acres in southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
  • Dec. 28, 2016, President Barack Obama designates the Bears Ears National Monument of 1.35 million acres of public lands in southeastern Utah by use of the same act.
  • Dec. 4, 2017, Mr. Trump scales back both national monuments by 2 million acres, which takes us to Friday.

This back and forth just creates more uncertainty, especially for our rural communities and for our tribes because they can’t bank on anything. Here today, gone with the next president, depending on party.

Bears Ears: “What used to be in is out”

There is no community in the country that can have certainty in their planning process if every time there’s a change in the White House, boundaries on the ground change. What used to be out is in, and what used to be in is out.

We wouldn’t have this problem of uncertainty every time the White House changes from a Democratic to a Republican  if Congress would do its job and coordinate, compromise and weigh competing interests between the various shareholders in the equation such as local ranchers, farmers and tribe members.

But sadly, we have all bought in to this idea that we’re just too divided. We’re too divided on Bears Ears, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, so the president will have to do it himself.

Once, with a national monument that they declared, presidents solidified a legacy lasting beyond their presidency. Not anymore — because, remember, what is done by executive order shall be undone by executive order.

So if you are cheering today, keep cheering, but it won’t last until real leadership creates a permanent, predictable solution to this monumental back and forth.

New today:
Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante announcement likely to draw both praise and ire


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Opinion: The monumental volley and folly of Bears Ears