Bears Ears: A national monument 80 years in the making now faces a perilous reversal of fate.
After decades of advocacy and dedication from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, along with conservation, archaeological, and recreation organizations, President Obama in 2016 protected Bears Ears as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act.
Now, not even six months later Bears Ears National Monument is under imminent threat from an administration brazenly catering to the fossil fuel industry, which is furious that the area has been deemed too important to riddle with drilling rigs and mines.
President Trump’s recent Executive Order that calls upon Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to “review” 27 monuments designated under the Antiquities Act since 1996, specifically singled out Bears Ears National Monument. And while the Executive Order did not require public comments, Secretary Zinke has invited public input on the monuments in question, but has limited the comment period for Bears Ears to just 15 days.
The Wonders of Bears Ears
Bears Ears National Monument is a dynamic landscape, where broad, flat mesas are gashed by narrow winding canyons and punctured by sharp pinnacles. Natural bridges and stone arches are scattered throughout the area and provide evidence of its fascinating and extensive geological history. Nothing stands out more however than the “bears ears” buttes that rise above the landscape and are visible from every direction. President Obama appropriately described Bears Ears as “unsurpassed in wonders” in his proclamation designating the monument.
This unique and stunning landscape has made Bears Ears a haven for a diversity of wildlife species, from the charismatic prairie dog to the elusive mountain lion.
Utah’s only population of Albert’s tassel-eared squirrels along with gophers, rabbits, chipmunks, and shrews hide amongst the canyons and uplands in search of food—and while avoiding a host of carnivores: that also call the region home: coyotes, gray foxes, bobcats, mountain lions and black bears.
Birds of prey such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, and ferruginous hawk perch high atop the monument’s mesa tops using their keen eyesight to hunt for prey throughout its maze-like landscape of canyons and rock formations.
You might also spot the threatened Mexican spotted owl swooping between old growth trees or nesting in the caves and cliffs. The Manti-La Sal National Forest, a large portion of which is located within Bears Ears, is the largest contiguous habitat for the species. As logging, urban development, water development and agriculture continue to threaten large portions of the owl’s habitat, Bears Ears is becoming increasingly crucial for their survival.
Despite its dry and desert-like character, the monument surprisingly provides numerous permanent water sources. Riparian areas throughout the landscape support a countless number of species, including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The attractive little bird requires moist riparian vegetation near saturated areas and surface water in order to breed. A large portion of their habitat has been lost and degraded elsewhere due to water diversion, livestock grazing, urban development, and other human induced habitat changes.
Over 15 species of bats can be found throughout the monument and topographic features such as rock depressions collect the scarce rainfall to provide habitat for numerous aquatic species. Bears Ears is world-renowned for its elk population and is also home to mule deer and bighorn sheep. The area’s diversity of soils and rich microenvironments provide for a great diversity of vegetation that sustains dozens of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
The conservation value of Bears Ears National Monument is critical to southeastern Utah, and even rivals that of other national parks and other preserves in the West.
Aside from its incalculable ecological value, Bears Ears is a sacred place to multiple Native American tribes and has a rich cultural history. Rock art, cliff dwellings, and ceremonial sites all exist within the monument, which is key to safeguarding traditional ecological knowledge that is passed down to young and future generations. In unprotected areas, sacred sites like these have experienced looting and vandalism.
Show Your Support for Bears Ears Before It’s Too Late!
The fate of Bears Ears National Monument hangs in the balance. Submit your comments today and tell Secretary Zinke that this landscape needs to be protected in its entirety—as it was originally designated under the Antiquities Act—to safeguard its priceless wildlife, ecological and cultural heritage.
With your help, we can save this beautiful, national treasure for generations to come!