The future of the monument has remained mostly in limbo since then while Trump’s actions are challenged in court and the Bureau of Land Management worked to develop new land use plans for Bears Ears.
The recent executive order signed by Biden reignited that years-long struggle between those who argue that land protection and management by federal agencies is government overreach
, and those who seek to preserve the land they consider sacred
A years-long effort for stewardship
The mesas, cliffs and canyons in the 1.3 million acres of Bears Ears have been inhabited for tens of thousand of years, archeologists say. Some of its history has been written in sandstone walls and its hills provide healing for tribal members.
At different time periods
, Bears Ears has been home to the 纳瓦霍族
, 的 Hopi Tribe
, 的 Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
, 的 Pueblo of Zuni
和 Ute Indian Tribe
. Each tribe has ancestral ties to Bears Ears that date back to time immemorial
While the monument stands outside reservation boundaries, Native people might visit to collect firewood and medicinal herbs as well as to hunt, fish or run in prayer. 与此同时, those who live far or outside the state often make pilgrimages to the area to connect with their ancestors’ spirits.
More than five years before Bears Ears sparked nationwide controversy
, Native leaders in San Juan County
— where the monument is located
— began looking into a way to protect the land
. They didn’t want to be merely observers while others debated the management of public lands
. 关于 47% of the population in San Juan County is Native American
, 根据 US Census estimates.
Utah Diné Bikéyah
要么 “People’s Sacred Lands
,” a Navajo-led group
, interviewed numerous elders and proposed multiple government protections for Bears Ears to local and state officials
. As the years passed
, leaders from different tribes joined efforts and they created conservation plans that would allow the tribes to co-manage the land
“Those five tribes have their own way of traditionally take care of the land and is particularly different from the Western way of taking care of the land. So we came up with a thought out plan from these different tribes,” said Woody Lee, executive director of Utah Diné Bikeyah.
在 2016, former president Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears as a national monument
, noting that members of Congress
, Secretaries of the Interior
, state and tribal leaders
, and local conservationists had proposed protections for at least 80 年份.
In his proclamation, Obama directed officials to engage tribal government officers in the development of a management plan for the monument.
Before a year had passed, the tribes and their supporters went from “an incredible amount of jubilation and joy,” Gonzales-Rogers said, to a feeling of “loss and a form of depression.”
Trump had decided to split the monument into two separate units that comprised approximately 201,876 英亩. The boundaries had been cut by roughly 85%.
Ancient history in danger
From the low desert elevations to the highest mountain areas in Bears Ears, there’s evidence of 10,000 years of human occupation, said Lyle Balenquah, a Hopi archeologist who has studied the area extensively.
“There has never been a time when the whole region has never been occupied by some Indigenous group, all the way back into the Paleolithic era and into the modern era,” Balenquah said. “It contains one of the densest concentrations of archaeological sites in the Southwest.”
Small groups of archeologists have drawn maps in recent years, photographed multiple sites and analyzed a number of artifacts but Bears Ears remains scarcely documented, Balenquah said.
Surveying such a sprawling area is considered a daunting task for any archeologists and Trump’s decision made it even more challenging. A significant portion of Bears Ears became vulnerable to the drilling industry and threatened by irresponsible tourism.
While the original boundaries of the monument would have prevented new oil and gas exploration or mining in more than 1 百万英亩, the change left roughly 85% open to new leases.
CNN has reached out to the Bureau of Land Management for comment on whether there have been new leases in Bears Ears.
The controversy over the monument’s boundaries has drawn even more visitors, making archeologists refocus their work to high traffic areas.
“We know it’s old but for the everyday visitor that comes in, they don’t know how old it is and they may not realize how fragile these areas are,” Balenquah said. “They may not understand that the only reason why some of these places are still standing is because nobody has been visiting them for long periods of time.”
Unlike national parks or other monuments, there are no signs telling visitors that they’ve entered Bears Ears. Federal officials have not built trailhead signs, fences or bathrooms for visitors.
“You could just walk right up to this 800-900 cliff dwelling,” said Josh Ewing, executive director of local nonprofit group Friends of Cedar Mesa.
Fearing that scores of visitors would damage the landscape
, Friends of Cedar Mesa raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and operate a visitors center
. Volunteers have built fences to keep animals out of some archeological sites
, filled eroded areas with soil
, remove graffiti and hike through the monument to teach proper etiquette to visitors
, Ewing said
As an archeologist, Balenquah says he knows it’s important to preserve Bears Ears because it’s key to understand Indigenous history. As a Hopi person, he can’t let his culture and his ancestors’ representation be erased.
“We have stories, songs, prayers and ceremonies that talk about these ancestral places,” Balenquah said. “We feel that we should have a greater say in how that landscape is managed and a greater role in whatever the Biden administration chooses to do.”