Remote Corner of Utah Becomes Conservation Battleground

The New York Times looks at the controversy surrounding the proposal to create a new national monument in southeastern Utah. Ignoring the protests of local and state officials, environmentalists are urging Pres. Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to make the land grab.

Reports Jack Healy:

Conservative lawmakers across the state have lined up to oppose any new monument. Ranchers, county commissioners, business groups and even some local tribal members object to it as a land grab that would add crippling new restrictions on animal grazing, oil and gas drilling and road-building in a rural county that never saw its share of Utah’s economic growth. Unemployment here is 8.4 percent, more than double the state average.


“We’ve chosen to live here knowing we’re never going to get rich,” said Bruce Adams, a San Juan county commissioner and fifth-generation rancher whose cattle largely graze on federal allotments. “We chose to live here because we love the land, we love the country.”


To create a new monument out of Bears Ears “would be almost un-American,” Adams said.


Val Dalton, a rancher who grazes cattle almost exclusively on government land, said new federal protections “would put us out of business.”


But for the coalition of tribes and nature advocates seeking preservation, a new national monument here would preserve a swath of mountains, mesas and canyons six times the size of Los Angeles. It could also create a new model for how public lands are managed: The tribal coalition of Navajos, Zunis, Hopis, Utes and Ute Mountain Utes wants to jointly manage the land with the government.


“You can’t talk about who we are as a people without talking about the land,” said Eric Descheenie, a chairman of the intertribal coalition leading the effort. “The same kind of love that we have for relatives is no different than the love we have for the land. Our traditional people know and understand these lands as living, breathing beings.”