November 02, 2018

Bears Ears — the controversy and concern

Bears Ears from Natural Bridges

I have seen Bears Ears many a time — after all, they're visible from as far as 90 miles away in southeast Utah. I've seen them from the edge of Canyonlands. From the Abajos. From Natural Bridges. From the Moki Dugway. From Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado. From Garden of the Gods. From Monument Valley in Arizona.

Moki Dugway 1

But, I'd never driven the road up to them.

Which I rectified on my most recent vacation.

President Barack Obama's creation of Bears Ears National Monument, blogged about by me, President Donald Trump's downsizing that and splitting it into two units, the non-contiguous Shash Jáa in the south and Indian Creek in the north units, the former including the actual Bears Ears. And, Trump may be playing politics with the name for the new, and hopefully temporary by legal ruling first unit, as noted in the Salt Lake Tribune. (And I am SHOCKED that Interior Secretary chief hack Ryan Zinke, an even bigger Lyin Ryan than outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, lied about the renaming. (There's a good GIF map there of various proposals for the size of the area and the designation, whether national monument or not; by size, Obama's action is very close to what Utah's own Congresscritters Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop proposed, though without national monument designation.

Very worth a read: A new National Geographic article on Bears Ears and related issues.

Given things in Moab and in and around Arches National Park, I also get the concerns the likes of Jim Stiles had that the monument would bring an avalanche of recreational tourism. But, I think that's way overblown, as I've said before.

First, that has not happened in a Moab-like way in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area. There have been a few complaints that Escalante itself has gotten too tourist-dependent on some of its businesses, but from what I read about that recently in High Country News, it's nowhere near a Moab-type problem. (Beyond that, nothing's stopping Mormons in Southern Utah from ramping up heritage tourism.)

Second, there's a finite amount of both recreation time and dollars.

Grand Gulch-footprints stylized
Take only memories, leave only footprints, is very true in Grand Gulch.
Third, Bears Ears, like GSE, is more off the beaten path.

Stiles has recounted decades-old patrolling of that area by the BLM with presumed military surplus helicopters. Nobody wants that noise today. But, national monument designation might have led to drone patrols that wouldn't happen otherwise, among other things.

Beyond that, the Geographic story notes another concern. With digital cameras, and even more, smartphone cameras, geotagging photos, it becomes easy for more and more people to visit back-country ruins. Even if not vandals or for-profit thieves, they may still steal potsherds or masonry stones, or otherwise disturb the provenance of a site.

This:
“The strategy of leaving it alone and trying to keep it a secret is unsustainable,” says Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, a conservation group.
Sums it up.

I know Stiles rightly questions Friends of Cedar Mesa's old plans to sell guided tours of the monument's backlands. Fine, but here's a better idea than chucking that entirely. Cut the price on such tours to more reasonable levels, and have the tribes involved with monument management, not Friends of Cedar Mesa, run them.

Fines from lawbreaking, especially on violating antiquities, could have a cut go to the tribes, too.

Beyond that, Stiles has now graduated from being an Ed Abbey quasi-propagandist to a full-on Mormon propagandist, in my opinion. When he says that Mormons have not only been persecuted as bad as American Indians but also indicated that said persecution of Mormons had just as little justification, it's hard to take anything he says about anything without HUGE grains of salt, if he doesn't post a URL for me to read through and make my own determination of his interpretations.

Other thoughts:

Per that Tribune link, the Navajos' link to Bears' Ears is the most tenuous, and may come close to the cultural appropriation that marks much of Navajo religion. (All religions have degrees of cultural appropriation and syncretism, but very few on the level of the Navajo.)

For a plethora of petroglyph and ruins pictures from Cedar Mesa and elsewhere, go here, or to a blog post of Randy's here.

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