About a month ago, Obama set aside a chunk of Utah as the new Bears Ears National Monument.
To people from outside the southwest, it’s difficult to judge the significance of this.
First, let’s talk size. It will be about 1.3 million acres. But pretty much no one knows how big an acre is, so WTF does this mean? Let’s put it this way: we have a state that is not that large.
Here’s a capture from Google Maps. See the smallish green island in the middle? That’s Natural Bridges National Monument, which has been there for quite some time. I’ve been there, and it feels pretty big. The darker gray at the bottom is the northern edge of the Navajo Reservation (which, while off the map, is bigger by itself than ten of the states). So, where’s Bears Ears? It’s pretty much all of the light gray in the middle of the map.
It will butt up against Canyonlands National Park (the top center), and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the left and bottom.
Panning out even more, we can see that it fills in a big hole in the four corners that does not yet have “national something” status:
If you note US 191 going south through the center of the map, Bears Ears is much of the light gray area to the left. So it will dwarf nearby Canyonlands National Park, but also Arches National Park (unmarked), Mesa Verde National Park (not marked), and Canyon de Chelly National Monument (not marked). It’s a big deal.
This is an upgrade of sorts. Most of this land already belonged to the Federal government. But it was considered basic BLM land: available for pretty much any use if you followed the guidelines. By making it a National Monument, Obama limited the uses for this land to pretty much recreation, and limited grazing. And it will get some offices, and perhaps a small visitor center or two, and a few dedicated rangers.
I’ve driven across Bears Ears. It’s pretty, but mighty desolate and lonely. For an occasional and casual user like me, I think, oooh … maybe they’ll have port-a-potties out there now. For more serious recreational users, it’s hard for me to see how this is much of an improvement.
It is a big deal for Native Americans though. Personally, I have a hard time seeing their specific attachment to the region. It’s important to the Navajo, but their claim to it is probably not more than 500 years older than the claims of Utahns to the area: they’re just the second most recent interlopers. So, more serious, but not quite as serious as its made out to be with all the grim talk about ancient lands. I think what is a big deal is that it has been open season for people in those small towns out there to raid native archeological sites and steal stuff for sale online. If national monument status puts a lid on that, I’m all for it. But it’s a big place, and that seems unlikely.
There are a lot of issues involved, and they’re covered better elsewhere. For my part, I tend to come down on the side of the Feds on this one. Even so, it’s clear that once again, a Democratic president has kicked dirt in the face of Utah by limiting usage of part of what we call home. And it’s certainly not like he ever went there before signing off on this. So people who think this is crappy have a point.