The Obama administration recently blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline due to opposition from some members of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian tribe, who couldn’t tolerate the harmless fact that the underground pipeline’s route passes within a half-mile of their reservation’s border. Now, Sen. Mike Lee says Pres. Obama should give the same respect to the residents of Utah’s San Juan County, both Native American and white, who oppose the designation-by-executive-fiat of a sprawling new national monument that would impact every aspect of their lives and livelihoods.
There is so much common ground when it comes to protecting the million-plus acres of public lands in southeast Utah. Above all, everyone involved wants to ensure that the vast stretch of land in the Bears Ears region, which contains tens of thousands of Native American cultural sites and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, is preserved for future generations.
But there are also some honest disagreements about how exactly the land should be protected. Most Native Americans who live around Bears Ears and use the land on a daily basis fear that a monument designation will strictly limit their access to it. Other Utahns in the region worry that they will no longer be able to use the land for grazing and mineral development, which is exactly what happened after President Bill Clinton unilaterally designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument in 1996. Even advocates for a national monument worry that current law does not provide tribes with a meaningful role in management of a monument.
Supporters of a monument designation cite the 1906 Antiquities Act, but that law was specifically written to protect archaeological sites from looting and vandalism. That is why the act requires designated monuments to be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and a management of the objects to be protected.” The Obama administration has used the law to set aside 548 million acres of land and water, more than double any other administration. The act was never intended to give a president the unilateral power to dictate land-use management wherever he saw fit.
The administration recently blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline due to strong opposition from local residents. I urge it to give the same respect to the residents of San Juan County, Utah. They do not want this monument. They do not want outside interests from coastal urban areas dictating to them how to live their lives and manage their lands.