The landscape at Bear Ears renders you breathless. Painted in sunset reds and oranges, stone formations both eerie and beautiful stretch as far as the eye can see, drawing climbers, hikers, and anthropologists alike to explore the expanse. There’s a feeling of freedom and wilderness that hums in every tumbling rock and soaring peak; a peace untrampled by strip mall concrete or smog-enshrouded oil rigs. For now, the monument at Bear Ears stands as a public place of peace and exploration – but it may not for much longer.
On December 4, 2017, the administration gutted Bear Ears by cutting the monument’s 1.35 million acre expanse down to just over 200,000 acres. The 85% reduction came as devastating news to the Native tribes, anthropologists, and climbers who know who utterly invaluable the lands are. By lifting federal protections, the administration strips Bear Ears of its defenses against oil drilling and industrial development and puts the region’s priceless natural and historic resources in immeasurable danger. In his comments on the matter, President Trump added insult to already-painful injury by declaring: “Public lands will once again be for public use. Families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of your land and how to conserve this land for many generations to come.” As a climber and a respectful visitor to Bear Ears, this comment enrages me – for who is Trump opening the door? Given that peaceful visitors and explorers already had access to the monument, one can only assume that the president means to throw open the doors to industrialists and developers: people who give not a whit of care for sustainability or conservation.
Infuriatingly, the administration slashed Bear Ears without bothering to reach out to any of the Native tribes who have deep ancestral ties to the land. Prior to Trump’s proclamation, the protected land was managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and a coalition of the Navajo Nation, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni. For a moment, let’s put aside the fact that the proclamation places one of our few remaining pockets of American wilderness into terrible risk aside and consider the human impact of this proclamation. The metaphorical – and perhaps literal – bulldozer doesn’t just threaten our climbing sites and ecological fields, but also invaluable remnants of human history. Trump’s brash proclamation effectively encourages developers to tear down sacred sites in favor of strip malls and oil fields, all without asking for those with deep ties for the space about their feelings on the matter. The president may claim to want to give the land back to the people of Utah, but this decision makes it abundantly clear that his considerations are limited to a select group of Utah residents.
In truth, this fight isn’t just about saving Bear Ears. Over the span of the last few months, the administration has opened the way for drilling in protected spaces, rolling back mining regulations, and scrapping protections for endangered species. Bear Ears is one symptom of a wide-reaching trend towards irrevocable environmental harm. As an avid climber and environmentalist, this push against public lands worries me; nearly 60% of climbing spaces are in public lands. If we allow our public lands to be compromised by industrial development, we may lose our grip on America’s last remaining untouched wilderness. Currently, environmental advocates, outdoor tourism groups, and tribal coalitions are filing legal suit against the proclamation and arguing that while the president has the power to designate protected lands, he does not have the power to rescind already-established protections.
We cannot allow this administration to erode our public lands to nothing and destroy invaluable natural, historical, and cultural treasures. Make your voice heard, and help save Bear Ears!