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New Bears Ears monument could spur local tourism

While the monument could increase tourism, concerns remain about revenue loss from oil and gas development in southeast Utah

Hannah Grover
hgrover@daily-times.com
An aerial view of the southeastern edge of Cedar Mesa is pictured just after sunrise. To the west and southwest, unnamed monuments in Valley of the Gods cast long shadows in the morning light. Navajo Mountain is on the left horizon.
  • Superintendent of Aztec Ruins and Chaco Canyon says the new Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah could increase tourism in the Four Corners.
  • President Barack Obama designated the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument last month.
  • The president's decision came after a request in 2015 by the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, a group of representatives from five Native American tribes that claim ancestral connections to the region.
  • Some Utah Navajos are concerned the monument will hurt southeastern Utah schools by shutting off the land to energy development.

FARMINGTON — The newly declared Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah could draw more tourists to the Four Corners region, according to Michael Quijano-West, the superintendent of Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

That's because new national monuments often see an increase in visitation and that can spill over to nearby National Park Service units, said Quijano-West, who previously worked as chief of parks and planning in the New England region.

Bears Ears National Monument features archaeological sites similar to those at Aztec Ruins and Chaco Canyon, such as ancestral Puebloan dwellings and kivas.

Quijano-West said that while working in New England he heard concerns that new NPS units could siphon off tourists from existing sites. But, he said, he has not seen that happen in his experience. Instead, when new NPS units were created in New England they "added another reason for people to come to the region and visit," he said.

Last month, President Barack Obama designated the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument after a request issued in 2015 by the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, a group of representatives from five Native American tribes that claim ancestral connections to the region.

Quijano-West said it is important for the government to create new NPS units to preserve open spaces for the future. While he has not visited the Bears Ears region, he plans on taking a trip to the new monument this year.

Unlike Aztec Ruins and Chaco, which are both managed by the National Park Service, Bears Ears National Monument will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition. The two agencies currently manage the land that was designated as a monument and are working on future management plans.

Gilbert Ben, center, of Aneth Chapter in Utah, was part of a group that shared concerns about Bears Ears in a gathering in front of the Navajo Nation Council chamber and during the winter session on Jan. 25 in Window Rock, Ariz.

While the monument proposal was spurred by a Native American coalition, some Utah Navajos are concerned the designation could limit their access to the ancestral lands for traditional uses. They are also concerned the designation will hurt southeastern Utah schools by shutting off the land to energy development.

On Jan. 8, members of the Navajo Nation's Aneth Chapter in Utah voted to pass a resolution urging President-elect Donald Trump to overturn Obama's designation.

"The decision to designate Bear Ears as a national monument was done so without hearing from residents who live in the very area," said Vern R. Lee, leader of the Navajo Republicans group, in a press release.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.