Guest Opinion: President Obama Listened to Tribes While Utah Pols Failed

Mike WeinholtzThank you, President Obama, for designating Bears Ears National Monument in Utah for all Americans.

These extraordinary public lands are home to more than 100,000 Native American cultural sites including cliff dwellings and petroglyphs, Mormon pioneer artifacts, and unique wildlife. This historic designation also preserves unrivaled natural landscapes and allows for continued access for recreational activities.  Importantly, this designation will help preserve diverse Native American cultures and ensure continuation of traditional tribal land uses.

The Native American Tribes that advocated for the Bears Ears National Monument have been working to protect sacred lands for decades. They’ve showed up day after day representing the needs of their people. Their work and dedication deserve our respect. I congratulate the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition for making this new monument a reality. I and future generations are deeply indebted to them.

Unfortunately, Utah’s Governor, Attorney General and Congressional delegation are now threatening legal action. This thinly veiled posturing serves to underscore the all too common political motivations that benefit special interest and insiders, wasting tax payer dollars and failing to think long-term. The vast majority of Utahns believe protecting public lands for future generations is essential to our culture, heritage, economy and general well being; yet politicians in Utah continue to perpetuate ideas that fall well short.

These naysayers are spinning like a new washing machine. As a businessman, there are a couple of red herrings I cannot let go unchallenged. So, let’s use the facts, not the hype.

There are 124 existing national monuments spanning our nation’s public lands and water. For the vast majority of them, the gateway communities have found them to be important economic assets and a boon to the regional economy.  Job creation across a range of industries and personal incomes have increased significantly faster in rural Western counties with more protected public lands. These places are succeeding because of the nearby national monuments, parks, wilderness, and refuges, not despite them.

Representative Rob Bishop (UT) and his colleagues don’t get to start whining now. They had three and a half years to pass public lands legislation. The best they could come up with was a proposal full of carve outs for special interests and poison pills threatening our land, air, and water. They failed, letting down Utahns, including the numerous stakeholders that spent thousands of hours engaging in Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Thankfully, President Obama possessed the foresight to preserve the Bears Ears area’s remarkable landscapes and ancient treasures.

Leaders make decisions. For more than a hundred years, American presidents, both Republican and Democratic, have judiciously used the authority granted in the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. Our nation is undeniably richer as a result of their actions.

Following in this tradition, President Obama listened to the citizenry across the nation, region, and State of Utah, including those in San Juan County. His administration consulted with the Tribes who proposed the monument, and gathered input from both proponents and opponents. He and his advisors did their homework.

And, in the end, President Obama did the right thing. I applaud him for acting judiciously in designating Bears Ears National Monument.

Mike Weinholtz is the Chairman of the CHG Healthcare Services, which employs more than 2,000 people and is one of the largest providers of healthcare staffing in the country. CHG has been named to Fortune Magazine’s list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America” for the last seven years in a row. He also serves as the Chairman of Grassroots Utah Strategies and was the Democratic candidate for Governor of Utah in 2016.