Zinke: Everyone wants to protect Bears Ears
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said most of the concerns he has heard both for and against the Bears Ears National Monument focus on similar issues
- Residents expressed concerns about public access and protection of natural and cultural resources
- Zinke said he has not decided what action he will recommend to President Donald Trump
- Monument proponents and opponents are concerned about tourists damaging archaeological sites
BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah — Nearly every street corner in Blanding, Utah, displayed a sign this week either supporting the Bears Ears National Monument or asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to recommend rescinding the designation.
Zinke's visit prompted rallies both for and against the monument as he began a process ordered in late April by President Donald Trump to review all national monuments created using the Antiquities Act since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres.
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Despite the visible controversy in Blanding, Zinke said almost everyone he has spoken to has similar concerns, such as balancing protection of natural and cultural resources with public access.
During a Monday night rally in Blanding, White Mesa resident Suzette Morris said she was concerned her family could lose access to their allotments within the monument. Morris and her family are members of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. While tribal leaders have told her the access will continue with the monument, Morris is skeptical.
"They don't have the authority to make those promises," she said.
Also Monday, Kenneth Maryboy, a member of the Navajo tribe, said he was excited when then-President Barack Obama created the national monument because it would protect sites that are important to him.
"My dad showed me how to become a warrior on that mountain," Maryboy said about the Bears Ears.
"In time immemorial, we walked this earth before any state lines, any county lines," added Leonard Lee, a former Aneth, Utah, Navajo Chapter president and a member of Utah Dine Bikeyah.
Zinke said the similar viewpoints have increased his optimism about the review.
"I'd be worried if people were saying something radically different, but they're really not," he said during a press conference Tuesday on Nature Conservancy land within the monument.
Utah Dine Bikeyah began pursuing a national monument about eight years ago in hopes of gaining protection for sites that are currently being vandalized and looted. Zinke did not meet with members of Utah Dine Bikeyah, although he met with Navajo Nation leaders and members of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, which was also involved in the process of creating the national monument.
While Zinke said he has not yet made a decision on his recommendation for the future of Bears Ears, he said he does not believe turning part or all of the monument into a national park is appropriate for management.
Zinke mentioned the possibility of a recommendation to expand some existing monuments or creating new national monuments.
"There's a couple forgotten areas that probably should be monuments," he said.
He added, "If you want to know what I think's important, if you look at the Teddy Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone Park, it's for the benefit and enjoyment of people and if you've been to the arch on the right hand side it says erected by Congress," he said. "So, Congress has a role to play, too, and if Congress would have taken action earlier probably a lot of the emotion around this wouldn't have taken place."
Heidi Redd, a rancher and conservationist, went on a hike with Zinke on Tuesday morning. Redd lives at Dugout Ranch, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy and located within Bears Ears National Monument.
"I hope he takes back more than anything the spirit of this place and that these ancient cultural sites are in jeopardy," she said. "We cannot sit back and do study after study to decide this or that or have litigation. We have to act now."
Many of the monument opponents expressed a need to protect the cultural sites.
"I don't want people coming to put a checkmark on their book and say they've visited," said Blanding resident Wendy Black.
Blanding resident Tom Palmer said he recently saw 40-50 people crawling in and out of the archaeological site.
"The thing that they're trying to protect, it's going to destroy," he said.
Redd, who is in favor of keeping the monument, said the sheer number of tourists and the lack of education will injure the archaeology. For example, Redd said tourists will not know that they cannot lean on a wall. She said it is important to increase funding and hire more law enforcement and rangers.
"It isn't that the people are coming to intentionally do damage or harm," she said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.