Obama Protects Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monuments!
On December 28th, President Barack Obama designated two new national monuments–Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Both national monuments will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Conservation Lands–more than 36 million acres of public lands, rivers and trails that protect America’s natural and cultural heritage and drive our country’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. The designations ensure continued access to traditional uses including tribal ceremonies, fuel wood, herb collection, hunting and outdoor recreation.
Groups from the Friends Grassroots Network worked tirelessly to see both of these national treasures protected. In the case of Bears Ears, both Utah Diné Bikéyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa rallied support for protection. Bears Ears marks the first time Native American Tribal Governments directly petitioned the U.S. Government to designate a national monument. (Read this guest blog from Utah Diné Bikéyah board chair Willie Grayeyes about the failure of the Public Lands Initiative to address tribal concerns, which led to the historic proposal unveiled in October of 2015 by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.)
Friends of Gold Butte and Friends of Nevada Wilderness worked hand-in-hand for more than a decade to permanently protect Gold Butte. The effort between these two Friends Grassroots Network members included joint outings, stewardship projects, petition collection drives and fundraising efforts. Their shared work to protect and restore the history and landscape found in Gold Butte will be ongoing, even now that Gold Butte National Monument has been designated.
“In the future, Presidents’ conservation records won’t just be compared to Teddy Roosevelt’s, they will be compared to Barack Obama’s. Through his actions, President Obama has become an exceptional American conservationist. Our nation will look back on his actions with admiration, and celebrate these national monuments for generations.
“By protecting Gold Butte and Bears Ears as national monuments, President Obama has honored Native American Tribes’ request to safeguard their ancestral lands. Bears Ears National Monument will ensure the elevated role for Tribes in management that they have long deserved. All Americans owe the Tribal Nations that developed and advanced these national monument proposals their enduring gratitude,” stated Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.
The Bears Ears lands in Southeast Utah is home to more than 100,000 Native American cultural sites, and plays an important contemporary role for Southwestern Native American communities. After 80 years of efforts to protect the area’s unique archaeology, today’s welcome designation is supported by all of the Tribal governments in the region, local grassroots Navajo and Ute people, and the vast majority of the citizens of Utah. The designation also reflects overwhelming agreement across the political spectrum for conserving Bear Ears, as evidenced by the Utah delegation’s Public Lands Initiative and the public feedback Obama Administration officials received during July 2016 public meetings in Utah.
Bears Ears is the ancestral home to Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni. Because of their ongoing connection to the land, Bears Ears marks the first time Native American Tribal Governments directly petitioned the U.S. Government to designate a national monument.
“President Obama has used the Antiquities Act precisely as it was intended to be used: to protect ‘historic and prehistoric structures’ as an important part of our shared American heritage, in this case the most significant previously unprotected cultural site in America. Bears Ears contains over 100,000 ancient structures, artifacts and rock art panels as tangible evidence of that heritage, some going back as many as 10,000 years,” stated Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and board member of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “This is the home of the first Americans, and it is viewed as a sacred homeland by the many tribes and pueblos of the Southwest which came together in an unprecedented effort to preserve it. This is primarily their victory, but it also belongs to all of us and to future generations.”
The Bears Ears region also offers incredible opportunities to explore the outdoors and also had strong support from the outdoor recreation industry. It includes Indian Creek, a place known globally to rock climbers, the San Juan River, popular with rafters, and countless canyons like Grand Gulch for people to hike and discover incredible archaeology and paleontology in an exceptionally scenic and remote setting.
Located in southeastern Nevada, Gold Butte is Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon. Early Native Americans were the first settlers of Gold Butte, and the area is filled with thousands of Native American artifacts preserving the stories of their lives here. Gold Butte also has numerous historic mining- and pioneer-era artifacts, important wildlife habitat, mind-bending rock formations and recently-discovered fossilized footprints that pre-date dinosaurs.
“Many Nevadans and others have worked to protect this cultural wonder for years, including through legislation I introduced in 2013,” said Steven Horsford, former U.S. Representative for Nevada’s 4th congressional district. “Thanks to the President’s use of the Antiquities Act, Gold Butte National Monument is now a reality, and will protect one of Nevada’s most breathtaking treasures so that its rock formations, petroglyphs, and recreation opportunities will endure—and continue to benefit Nevada’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy for generations to come.”
Like Bears Ears, Gold Butte experiences rampant and ongoing looting of structures, artwork and gravesites, acts that rob Native American people—and all Americans—of history. After more than a dozen years of bipartisan, locally-supported legislative attempts to protect Gold Butte, President Obama’s designation responds to widespread local support and the steadfast leadership of Senator Reid and other Nevada Congressional leaders.
“Bears Ears and Gold Butte are unparalleled national assets that draw visitors from around the globe. They contain some of our nation’s finest canyon country climbing, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering and river running. Protected, majestic landscapes are why the outdoor industry and tourism have boomed in Utah and Nevada, becoming one of the top economic sectors in these states,” commented Peter Metcalf, founder, CEO Emeritus and brand advocate of Black Diamond Equipment.
President Obama designated Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monuments using authority granted to the executive branch by Congress under the Antiquities Act. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, 16 presidents—8 from each party—have used the Antiquities Act to protect important cultural, historic and natural sites found on our nation’s public lands.
“Just as we have protected the Grand Canyon and Grand Tetons, which have both become the economic engines of their respected regions, we have now protected two of America’s most iconic landscapes that will become as widely known and equally important economically to their respective regions,” stated Metcalf. “Like many Utahns and Americans, the outdoor industry celebrates President Obama’s thoughtful & measured decision to look beyond today’s politics to a future where everyone will be grateful we protected Bears Ears and Gold Butte.”