Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should Utah's 'Bears Ears' Be a National Monument?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should Utah's 'Bears Ears' Be a National Monument?

Article excerpt

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Utah's 'Bears Ears' last week in an attempt to resolve an increasingly contentious debate over whether to designate the San Juan County cultural landscape as a US National Monument.

While divisive, the debate over the area designation is also nuanced, with some wanting to see sensitive cultural sites protected from vandalism and others fearing that more rigorous regulations will restrict cultural and economic activity.

"There is nobody that I talk to that doesn't want to see these areas protected," said Ms. Jewell at a three-and-a-half hour public meeting on Saturday before a packed room, according to Deseret News, which reports on news in Salt Lake City and Utah.

"That is what all of this is about, listening to each of you," Jewell said on the third day of her tour. "It has been several days of intense listening and several days of getting out in these incredible landscapes and feeling the power that exists within them."

The area contains more than 100,000 archaeological sites and 18 wilderness study areas and inventoried roadless areas. Twenty-six tribes support protecting the lands, but only one full-time law enforcement officer patrols the area, according to the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition asking President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect the 1.9 million acres of native American ancestral land on the Colorado Plateau with National Monument designation.

Jewell got an intimate view of threats to the cultural sites on a Saturday hike. Petroglyphs depicting big-horn sheep, plants, and wandering lines that emerge from cracks - thought by some archaeologists to represent the paths of individual lives and their spiritual origins - are threatened by hikers who take rocks to make cairns and engrave messages on the walls, said John Ewing, Executive Director of Friends of the Cedar Mesa in the meeting, emphasizing a need for better education. …

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