Analysis Touts Landscape, Night Skies at Bears Ears

By O'Donoghue, Amy Joi | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), April 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Analysis Touts Landscape, Night Skies at Bears Ears


O'Donoghue, Amy Joi, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


By Amy Joi O'Donoghue

Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY - A new analysis celebrates the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah for having one of the most ecologically intact landscapes in the West, pointing to the need for continued monument status to protect what's on the ground.

Prepared by the Center for American Progress and Conservation Science Partners, the study released this week asserts the Bears Ears region is on par with multiple iconic national parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, the Grand Canyon and Arches.

"The cultural significance of the area is unparalleled, and this study shows that -scientifically and environmentally speaking - Bears Ears has few peers," said Jenny Rowland, research and advocacy manager for the Public Lands Project at the center.

"Not only is Bears Ears ecologically valuable, but it also holds its own as a national treasure even when compared with some of the nation's most iconic national parks," she added.

The analysis used 10 ecological indicators comparing Bears Ears to like-sized areas in the West and found it placed in the top 10 percent for ecological intactness, connectivity and night sky darkness. San Juan County is Utah's least populated county, its poorest and largest in size - home to national parks and national monuments that surround much of the Bears Ears region.

"With its conservation significance among the ranks of our national parks, Bears Ears deserves to be kept in the public's hands and protected for future generations," Rowland said.

The report comes amid the continuing controversy over the new monument and in the same week that newly confirmed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he's reviewing the process for monument designations.

"Everything is on the board," Zinke said during a White House briefing. "We're looking at it. No monument in specific, but looking at the process, looking at the law and making sure the monuments follow the law. At the end of the day, it is important that we operate collaboratively."

Zinke, a former GOP congressman from Montana, is under pressure by both monument supporters and its critics to visit the rugged region in southeast Utah and talk with those entrenched in the debate.

In the briefing, he was asked by a reporter what action he might take on another monument - Gold Butte in Nevada - which was designated by then-President Barack Obama on the same day as Bears Ears and in the final weeks of his administration.

"If you are outside of Washington, D.C., there is a lot of anger out there," Zinke said. "And I want the Department of Interior, our rangers and land managers to be first viewed as rangers and land managers, not law enforcement. I don't want us to be heavy-handed, and I want us to work with local communities, because it is where we are embedded."

Utah's top politicians and local elected officials have railed against Bears Ears and want the monument designation rescinded by President Donald Trump or derailed in some sort of legislative action.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, reiterated the litany of complaints over the designation during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday evening.

"In the parting shot of his presidency, President Obama defied the entire Utah congressional delegation and the will of his own constituents when he declared the Bears Ears National Monument. With a stroke of a pen, he locked away an astonishing 1.35 million acres - a geographic area larger than the total acreage of all five of Utah's national parks combined," Hatch said.

The country's most senior sitting senator added that he has pressed Trump on the public lands issue during a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office.

"Our president assured us that he stands ready to work with us to fix this disaster. More than any of his predecessors, President Trump understands what's at stake here," Hatch said.

The Center for American Progress' report on Bears Ears National Monument said the political sentiments of Utah leaders like Hatch underscores the need for continued protections. …

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