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On Dec. 28, 2016, President Obama proclaimed the Bears Ears National Monument by using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906. He did this primarily to protect the many cultural resources from vandalism. There are an estimated 100,000 cultural sites in the area and protection of these sites is critically important to Native American people and others.

The truth is that vandalism of Native American cultural sites on Bureau of Land Management-administered lands, while illegal, is relatively common. Vandalism includes organized ongoing looting, grave robbing and destruction of structures. Estimates vary, but some 70 percent of the known sites on BLM-administered land in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona have likely already been vandalized.

The BLM has tried for years to protect the cultural sites but its resources are spread too thin over this large area.

Reaction to President Obama’s proclamation has been split. In general, Native Americans and environmentalists, including the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance, support the designation and believe it will result in greater protection for the cultural and other resources in the subject area.

It is also important to note that 99 percent of the Bears Ears National Monument was existing federal public land administered by either the BLM or U.S. Forest Service. The monument designation merely raises the level of resource protection. This designation did not expand federal government land holdings.

However, nearly all elected Republican officials in Utah — including Gov. Gary Herbert, congressional delegation, county commissioners, and others — strongly oppose the designation. The reason for their opposition is probably political, but local culture may also be key.

Most of the elected officials are white and grew up where arrowhead collecting and buried pot hunting were accepted activities. Unfortunately, thus far the governor’s opposition to Bears Ears has only resulted in the Outdoor Retailer Show, which had generated some $45 million in annual spending, announcing its exit from Utah.

Nationally, President Trump has directed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review all the national monuments designated in the last 20 years by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama and which are more than 100,000 acres, starting with Bears Ears.

Such a review is completely reasonable, especially by a new president. Nonetheless, the legal process by which a president can modify monument designations by previous presidents is unclear.

Hopefully, Zinke will fully involve the tribes, as well as the environmental community and tourism industry, in his review of the Bears Ears. The future of the national monument will depend upon an objective and just review.

Remember, too, that a number of former national monuments have eventually become national parks that contribute greatly to the local and regional economies — for example, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Acadia, and Grand Teton.

In closing, and to illustrate how Native Americans may not have been fully considered, on the front page of The Spectrum & Daily News on April 27, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes was quoted that he wanted to ensure “… antiquities are preserved, while keeping the lands accessible to the Native Americans and citizens.”

It should be pointed out to Hughes that Native Americans are citizens.

Mike Small of Cedar City is a member of the Iron County Democrats.

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