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Once protected, but what is to come?

An Obama-era executive order is up for possible change in the state of Utah

The+sun+rises+over+White+Canyon+in+Bears+Ears+monument.
The sun rises over White Canyon in Bears Ears monument.

The sun rises over White Canyon in Bears Ears monument.

Carissa Priebusch

Carissa Priebusch

The sun rises over White Canyon in Bears Ears monument.

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Here at Sierra Nevada College, students including myself have the opportunity to explore the wild southwest desert of Utah. The Outdoor Adventure Leadership program sends students out each spring for an extended field course as part of the degree requirements. The lands that I’ve been able to explore with my classmates and friends were recently protected by an Obama-era executive order making this area part of a national monument. But that order may be short-lived as President Trump threatens to reverse it, turning back the clock on progress for our environment and for future generations of SNC outdoor learners.

Through the help of Outward Bound School of Colorado, SNC students get the opportunity to eat, sleep and breathe the desert for three weeks strait. Waking up early to get a jump on hiking in the canyons before it gets too hot to walk on the mesa tops, filtering out tadpoles from the only water source for miles, jumping into slot canyons to cool off from the high noon sun and sleeping out under the clear star-filled skies are just a few of the things SNC students experience while out discovering the southwest. Preserving the land for future generations to share this experience was part of the motivation behind Obama’s December establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument.

In the waning days of his administration President Barack Obama used his unilateral power to push forward and create Bears Ears National Monument in accordance with the Antiquities Act of 1906. The act empowers the president to establish national monuments to protect federal land containing historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest. Obama recognized the importance of the protection of the land after the Public Lands Initiative failed to pass congress.

This monument comprises 1.35 million acres of land co-managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. It enhances recreation, protects cultural resources and helps restore natural habitats. And the monument does not affect private land owners – animal grazing and logging leases will not be dropped or changed due to the surrounding lands becoming a national monument.

There has been backlash on the monument because some people don’t believe that one person should have sole power of land designation without consent from any other parties. In an unprecedented move, Utah’s Republican lawmakers have launched a strong lobbying effort to persuade President Trump and Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke to rescind the designation of Bears Ears.

In the history of national monuments and parks, the designation of a monument or park has never been reversed. A president has the authority to create them but not to undo what a predecessor has done. Since 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law, 12 national monuments have been established, including Bears Ears. The Grand Canyon was set as a national monument and was received negatively by people when first established. Quickly people realized that it needed protection from mining. Eleven years later the Grand Canyon became the 17th U.S. National Park, thanks to the actions of congress and President Woodrow Wilson.

Visitors to Bears Ears are able to walk through a living museum. From pictographs and pottery to cliff dwellings, people are able to experience the desert from a human point of view. Culture from ancient natives to recent natives can all be discovered in the landscape. Recreational activities like rock climbing, hiking, biking and others will be able to thrive with protection of the land.

Bears Ears lets people explore a place that has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. The contrast of environments between the Sierra Nevada and the desert southwest gives SNC students a diverse portfolio of experiences applicable to their lives and careers. Taking away Bears Ears could potentially negatively impact the experiences SNC students receive when taking the extended field course.

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The student news site of Sierra Nevada College
Once protected, but what is to come?