Bears Ears: National Monument or National Controversy?


Laura Martinez

In 2016, a national monument designation set in motion a series of events leading to compelling legal and policy questions. It is undeniable that parts of the United States, particularly in the western states, are unparalleled in their desolate beauty, but many Americans often struggle with how much governmental actors should interfere to maintain these lands. In the twilight of his presidency, President Barrack Obama designated 1.35 million acres of land in Utah as Bears Ears National Monument. The Monument was designed to be run jointly by both the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Unlike national parks, which are set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States because of scenery or natural peculiarity, national monuments are reserved by the government because “they contain objects of historic, prehistoric or scientific interest.” In his signing statement, President Obama referred to extensive archeological and tribal interests as reasons to designate the monument. Bears Ears National Monument contains approximately 100,000 Native American archaeological and ancestral sites, and members of the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, and Zuni tribes petitioned the federal government to act to protect this area.

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