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10 questions about the Bears Ears for the outdoor retail industry

Yesterday, some of the country’s biggest outdoor retailers threw their support behind the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, despite opposition to the monument from most San Juan County residents. The press conference and panel event articulating their support were held in conjunction with the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show. However, these events were closed to much of the public, limiting the opportunity for genuine discussion. Therefore, Sutherland Institute takes this opportunity to encourage an elevated dialogue about the Bears Ears by asking some questions of outdoor retailers who are calling for monument:

  1. Why was a press conference about protecting the Bears Ears closed to San Juan County Native Americans opposed to the monument, who have lived on and cared for the Bears Ears for centuries?
  2. It was reported that protecting public lands generates economic benefits due to a stronger outdoor recreation industry. However, San Juan County currently contains all or part of one national park, three national monuments, a national recreation area and a national forest, and yet is the poorest county in Utah and one of the most economically depressed counties in the nation. Why have protected public lands and the outdoor recreation industry failed to bring prosperity to San Juan County, and how will another national monument change that?
  3. Industry leaders said that a national monument designation will attract high-paying employers and a talented work force. But Utah’s major outdoor retailers locate along the Wasatch Front, not San Juan County. Does this mean that a national monument will get rid of high-paying jobs from San Juan County (e.g., natural resource industry jobs) to create new high-paying jobs in relatively wealthier counties along the Wasatch Front, where outdoor retailers locate?
  4. National monuments in Utah, such as Grand Staircase-Escalante, have typically harmed the livelihoods of ranchers, natural resource industry employees, and others. Is there evidence that the economic benefits to the outdoor retail industry from a Bears Ears National Monument will be large enough to offset the likely economic harm to other economic sectors in the state?
  5. It was suggested that a national monument will do more to protect archaeological and historical sites in the Bears Ears than other available options, through additional financial and law-enforcement resources. However, federal land management agencies are strapped for cash and already have a deferred maintenance backlog of almost $18 billion. How will a national monument better protect the cultural resources in the Bears Ears when the federal government cannot even afford to care for the public lands it already controls?
  6. Everyone on both sides praises the unmatched beauty and amazing recreational opportunities the Bears Ears area provides. But these wonders are still available to us in large part because of how the local residents have taken care of the land, going back to times long before it was federally managed. What is it about today’s Native American and non-Native American residents of San Juan County that makes them incapable of caring for the public lands that create their livelihoods and their cultural heritage?
  7. The products sold by outdoor retailers allow individuals to access cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites inaccessible to most of the public. How is the outdoor retail industry promoting the kind of responsible recreation and education that will be necessary to protect Native American sites, especially when a national monument leads to more recreationists visiting the area?
  8. The management of other national monuments, such as Canyon de Chelly and Grand Staircase-Escalante, has shown that (despite assurances to the contrary before a monument has been designated) greater federal “protection” of public lands often restricts active use of the land over time – including recreation, grazing, and Native American access. What legal or other processes are there to guarantee that recreationists, Native Americans and ranchers will not lose their access to the Bears Ears and surrounding areas due to federal land management decisions that go against the spirit, if not the letter, of a national monument designation?
  9. Reports have come out that our national parks and monuments are seeing more visitors than ever, suggesting that a Bears Ears National Monument will bring many more people to the area, thereby intensifying the risk of “loving our lands to death.” What specific policy or legal measures exist to assure recreationists, conservationists and Native Americans that this will not happen in the Bears Ears?
  10. The people of San Juan County have made it clear that they don’t want big business colluding with the federal government to threaten their quality of life by taking away the land that creates their homes and their livelihoods. How will a monument declaration address their concerns?