Guest editorial: Failure of PLI led directly to Bears Ears Monument

Ever since late last year, when President Obama took action to protect Bears Ears, the Utah Congressional delegation has been unrelenting in their crusade against the resulting Bears Ears National Monument.  

They’ve even directly lobbied President Trump – no doubt to the delight of their big oil campaign donors – to somehow undo the monument declaration, something that has never been done and something the President does not have clear authority to do.  They’ve tried to paint the Monument as some sort of evil federal power play, but in doing so they ignore the facts and their own responsibility.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop in particular can look no farther than his bathroom mirror to find the person most to blame for the monument designation.  The failure of his own Public Lands Initiative (PLI), the only alternative to a monument, is the reason President Obama used his power under the Antiquities Act to accomplish what Utahns overwhelmingly support: protecting Bears Ears.

Bears Ears faces imminent threats, which needed urgent action

Bears Ears is rich in historical antiquities, many of which have religious and cultural significance for the tribes that have called the area home for thousands of years.

Sadly, the area has been left unprotected for too long, and many of the artifacts, structures, and landscapes have been looted, destroyed, vandalized or otherwise damaged. It has been called “the most vulnerable U.S. site for looting, vandalism, and grave robbing,” – yes, grave robbing – and was in need of urgent protections before what’s left is lost forever. 

The area needed protections, and on that point a wide majority of locals and area Tribes agree, but Congressman Rob Bishop failed to deliver. 

Bishop’s Failed PLI Forced President Obama to Act

In declaring a national monument, President Obama did what was necessary to protect Bears Ears.  Protecting valuable cultural antiquities is precisely what the Antiquities Act was intended to do, and Bears Ears needed those protections.

For years, Bishop talked a big game about his desire to protect Bears Ears through his Public Lands Initiative.  He held meetings, went on TV shows, met with the Interior Department and worked directly with the White House. 

But when the bill was finally introduced it was vastly different than what had been discussed and was chock-full of special interest give-a-ways. Bishop had wasted so much time that only 27 legislative days remained before Congress left town to campaign. It passed out of Bishop’s own committee with just one week remaining on the pre-election legislative calendar and it remained stalled in the following lame duck session.

The Obama administration had said up until the moment the PLI was no longer viable that he would wait to see its outcome before acting.  They gave Bishop until the very last minute to do it his way, but Bishop’s abject failure to pass it left President Obama with no other option but to declare a national monument.

In declaring the monument, the last administration accomplished what locals want and Utah Representative Rob Bishop failed to deliver.