Utah's Bear Ears, Nevada's Gold Butte now monuments
With the stroke of a pen, President Barrack Obama added two more national monuments to the list last Wednesday. The Bears Ears monument in San Juan County of southeastern Utah now covers 1.35 million acres, and the Gold Butte monument in Clarke County of southwestern Nevada covers 350,000 acres.
“Both designations were made unilaterally and despite overwhelming local opposition,” said a press release of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
According to the administration fact sheet, the Bear Ears monument includes “ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, abundant rock art, and countless other artifacts that hold cultural significance.”
The administration says the Gold Butte monument “will protect significant cultural resources, important geological formations, and vital plant and wildlife habitat” including “key wildlife corridors for large mammals such as desert bighorn sheep and mountain lions, and vital habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.” The area has been in the spotlight in recent years due to rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management regarding grazing rights.
Though the administration claims the two designations “follow years of robust public input from tribes, local elected officials, and diverse stake holders,” some local voices are not so enthusiastic. Governors, legislative representatives, and county officials from both states have voiced opposition.
At a recent rally opposing the Bear Ears monument, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the designation would “fan the flames of conflict on Utah’s public lands.” San Juan Native Americans stood behind him brandishing signs such as “Utah Navajos Oppose National Monument.”
Herbert said there is a better way to protect the area, pointing to legislation introduced by Utah’s delegation that would protect the Bears Ears area, but with fewer restrictions on historic uses.
Similarly, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval opposed the Gold Butte designation, calling instead for congressional action.
“Nevada has more public land managed by the federal government than any other state in the lower 48, and any new designation of those lands is most successful when implemented under a thorough, public process,” he said in a press release. “The use of the Antiquities Act in designating Gold Butte … bypassed Congress and the public. I believe our congressional delegation should have had a primary role in working to build consensus as has been accomplished successfully in the past.”
President Obama has now used the Antiquities Act 29 times to designate or expand national monuments. Critics say he and other presidents have abused the Act with overly large monuments, and are hopeful President-elect Donald Trump will take the unprecedented action of rolling back some of the designations. — Theodora Johnson, WLJ Correspondent