Scenic image of Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona in the evening light with an old tree in the foreground

Bears Ears: Will tourism be placed over preservation?

By Miriam Merrill

For years the National Park Service has struggled to determine what its priorities are. Recreation, preservation and conservation seem to be in a constant three-way tug-of-war vying for the Park Service’s attention. While fairly innocuous on the surface, this struggle often threatens the very resources the federal agency is working to protect.

Let’s take Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument, for example. The monument, originally created to preserve more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by and sacred to 20 different Native American tribes, was carelessly desecrated by Park Service employees. At least 78 projects, including boardwalks, bridges, trails and maintenance sheds, were built adjacent to and on top of the mounds – destroying priceless cultural resources. The NPS has disclosed in a published report that officials “clearly knew what they were doing was against the law.” There were no attempts to secure clearances or conduct impact surveys beforehand, so the total amount of damage is unknown. It appears that park service employees placed tourism over preservation, despite the park’s original mission to protect cultural resources.

Until the Park Service can implement processes aimed at mitigating personal preferences and prioritizing competing interests for the long term management of our public lands, it shouldn’t take on more responsibility – including managing the proposed 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears national monument. The monument advocates’ primary argument in support of the Bears Ears designation is that the Park Service will protect ancient ruins, sacred sites and other cultural resources. They make it sound as though the area were on the verge of destruction and that only federal management could save it from looting and desecration. What they fail to recognize however, is that San Juan County residents have been looking after this sacred area for many generations – making the protection of cultural resources in the region paramount.

At the Effigy National Monument, it seems like tourism took precedence over preservation. Can we expect the same should the Bears Ears region be designated a national monument? The people of San Juan County, who aren’t willing to gamble with the answer to that question, have loudly voiced their opposition to the proposed monument.

Miriam Merrill is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.

Bears Ears: Top 5 shenanigans by environmentalists

Bears Ears: Top 5 shenanigans by environmentalists

1. Collusion: Investigative journalism conducted by the Deseret News confirmed reports of behind-the-scenes, coordinated efforts between environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and big money from California to bring about the proposed 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. Take a look at our most recent video for a quick rundown of the facts.

2. Obfuscation: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited San Juan County a few weeks before Senator Mike Lee held a field hearing, to which Jewell was invited but declined to attend. Instead of hearing from the locals who would be most impacted by a designation, environmentalists bused in out-of-state supporters to drown out the local opposition. When given a chance to speak, the majority of San Juan County residents opposed the monument. However, comments made by out-of-staters could have given visiting officials the impression that the county is split on the issue because commenters were not required to provide their names or where they were from. Check out Sutherland’s undercover video and blog.

3. Exclusion: 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 where the retailers announced their support was advertised as open to the public. That turned out not to be the case. Instead, they turned people away because of their opposing opinions. We want to take this opportunity to encourage an elevated dialogue about the Bears Ears by asking 10 questions of outdoor retailers who are calling for a monument.

4. Deletion: Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis asked his Facebook followers to comment on a photo in show of support for the Bears Ears proposal. Instead, Utahns rallied and voiced their opposition to the monument. The senator didn’t like that very much, so he deleted over 100 comments. In response, a San Juan County resident sent a spirited letter to Senator Dabakis. Read the response here.

5. Misinformation: The other side has spread many myths about the proposed Bears Ears monument designation. Betty Jones, a local San Juan County Navajo, attributes the divisiveness to the spread of misinformation from monument supporters. We cleared up a few a few of these myths on our blog.

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Latest Bears Ears poll transmits a false sense of security

Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that a new Pew Charitable Trusts poll shows a slight majority of Utahns supports President Barack Obama in unilaterally designating the Bears Ears region as a national monument. The wording of the poll, however, is questionable.

Pew asked 600 registered Utah voters the following question:

“There is currently a proposal being considered to designate other public land in Utah as a national monument. This land, south of Canyonlands National Park, is commonly referred to as the Bears Ears area. As a national monument, the land remains open for grazing, rights of way, hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities, but new development, mining and oil and gas drilling is prohibited. Do you support or oppose the idea to make Bears Ears area in Utah a protected national monument?”

Notice the second sentence, where Pew asserts that national monuments designations do not impact rights of way, outdoor recreation and grazing. This statement paints an inaccurate picture of monument restrictions and how these policies evolve over time. National monuments are notorious for closing down economic and recreational access. Utahns need look no further than our own Grand Staircase-Escalante to see the debilitating effects of these designations. ATV trails have been closed, camping is constrained, and cattle are being pushed off the range. These few examples only begin to demonstrate the impact of monuments on our state.

The Pew poll question gave respondents the impression that aside from new development and mineral extraction, San Juan County and the public will continue using the land as we always have, even after a monument designation. It is not a stretch to assume this false sense of security led 53 percent of participants to voice their opinion in support of the proposed monument. Thankfully, Utahns can turn to a Dan Jones and Associates poll to get a more accurate representation of public opinion; in May it found that only 17 percent of participants wanted a monument, while 67 percent desired another way forward for the Bears Ears region. It is our opinion that such figures represent our state far more accurately than other polls floating around the internet. We encourage elected officials, Utahns, and others across the country to consider this when gauging public opinion.

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In new video, San Juan County children express hopes, dreams in face of possible Bears Ears national monument designation

In a new video released today (Facebook video/YouTube video), San Juan County children express their hopes and dreams for the future in the face of a possible national monument designation by President Barack Obama. The move would further restrict access to 1.9 million acres of what is largely multiple-use BLM and U.S. Forest Service land in the Bears Ears area. The video was produced by Sutherland Institute.

After one of the children says he wants to be a rancher like his father and grandfather, another child says, “But when someone takes away your land and livelihood, can you really be anything you want to be?”

Matthew Anderson, of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, says, “While many children across the country are able to pursue the American Dream, those in this rural part of southeastern Utah are left to fight an uphill battle.” Anderson is a policy analyst for the coalition, which is a Sutherland project. “Major parts of one national park, three national monuments, and a national recreation area already exist in San Juan County. The restrictions accompanying these designations have already stifled economic prosperity and endangered livelihoods.”

Anderson notes that San Juan County has both the lowest income per person and median family income in the state – ranking it among the most economically depressed in the entire country. Federal lands have already jeopardized the future of these children, and the proposed Bears Ears national monument will all but seal the economic fate of San Juan County. This monument designation is taking more than just 1.9 million acres from these children. It’s stealing their American Dream.

To make achieving the American Dream more likely for residents and their children, San Juan County should not rely solely on tourism, Anderson said, but should have the land and resources left available to them to create a diverse and robust economy based on a philosophy of multiple-use lands. Those uses could include ranching, natural resource extraction, tourism and entrepreneurship.

The San Juan County children shown in the video represent a cross-section of their peers from throughout their county. These children give voice to countless dreams, from carrying on a family legacy in ranching to exploring new possibilities in technology – all are intertwined with the land they live on and the resources it provides.

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Blanket statements about federal lands paint inaccurate picture

Outside of elite counties, federal lands — parks or otherwise — provide no significant economic benefits to those who draw wages, run a farm or business, or are struggling to get by. – Tim Oren


Last week’s Outdoor Retailer trade show brought state-of-the-art kayaks, rock climbing harnesses and camping gear to Salt Lake City. However, along with this top-of-the-line outdoor equipment came political rhetoric from environmental groups and other advocates of federal land management. The opening day of the expo was highlighted by a panel discussion on the advantages federal lands provide counties in Western states. During the forum, Ray Rasker of the Montana-based Headwaters Economics touted his organization’s findings that federal lands economically benefit our rural communities. While this is true of a few elite counties, it does not paint an accurate picture of what is really going on around the West.

Tim Oren of Boise investigated the statistical methods used by Headwaters Economics and shared his findings with the Idaho Statesman in an op-ed titled “Select federal lands attract wealthy elites, don’t benefit working class.” Read it here.

The proposed Bears Ears national monument: A story of big money, out-of-state tribal leaders and environmental group collusion

The proposed Bears Ears national monument: A story of big money, out-of-state tribal leaders and environmental group collusion

Last week investigative journalism conducted by the Deseret News confirmed reports of behind-the-scene, coordinated efforts between environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and big money from California to bring about a 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. While this is big news for many across the country, it comes as no surprise to the people of San Juan County.

Time and again locals have expressed their opinion that the push for a monument seemed rotten from the start – it was not something they initiated. Why would San Juan County residents, who have successfully taken care of the land for centuries, suddenly decide that they can no longer protect the area? These people know how to live in harmony with the land – respecting archaeological sites, conserving wildlife, and preserving the grandeur of the landscape. They understand that a monument designation would diminish their stewardship over the area, turning it over to bureaucrats and special interests headquartered thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.

Advocates also claim that locals seek a designation because of the economic prosperity it would bring. San Juan County residents know better. Major parts of one national park, three national monuments, and a national recreation area already exist in San Juan County. But even with these “protected” lands, the county has the lowest income per person and lowest median family income in the state. It also ranks among the most economically depressed in the entire country. Locals have seen firsthand that locking up multiple-use lands has prevented prosperity, and they expect to suffer even more under the burden of yet another national monument. They understand that a strong economy is a diverse one – relying on a host of activities to drive it – and that a national monument like the Bears Ears will reduce their economic diversity and deepen their financial woes by forcing them to be more dependent on tourism.

Another misconception is the assertion that San Juan County residents have been an integral part of the process. Monument advocates have used tens of millions of dollars and a coordinated media campaign to paint a picture of local involvement. Reality stands in stark contrast to this. Not only have locals been left out of conversations between the federal government and monument supporters, but efforts have been made to drown out local voices during the limited opportunities that residents had to give input.

Outside influence and deception have come to define the campaign to designate the Bears Ears region as a national monument. Special interests have co-opted the process to use federal power as a means of securing their agenda, despite local opposition. Please stand with the residents of San Juan County by signing this petition and saying no to deception and special interest politics.

Link to whitehouse.gov petition

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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?
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Are radical environmentalists trying to dupe Sec. Jewell?

On Saturday, thousands gathered at the Bluff Community Center in Southeastern Utah to share their opinion on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument with Sec. Sally Jewell and other visiting federal officials. As local San Juan County residents arrived, they were met by 100-degree temperatures, signs for and against the monument and a large contingency of strangers wearing blue shirts. When I asked a local Navajo who these people were, she said, “I know a few of them, but I’ve never seen most in my life.”

Video footage and audio statements from monument supporters appear to show that the Sierra Club and other extreme environmental groups bussed large groups in from all across the West in an apparent attempt to hijack the meeting and drown out local voices. One of the bus drivers revealed that “seven or eight buses” brought in monument supporters from as far away as New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

A monument supporter said, “This is a coalition of the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Wilderness Alliance. They brought in a bus from Flagstaff, from Durango, from Moab.”

What Sec. Jewell promised would be a community meeting intended to “learn from and listen to locals” was, instead, undermined by outsiders.

When given a chance to speak, the majority of San Juan County residents opposed the monument. However, comments made by out-of-staters could have given visiting officials the impression that the county is split on the issue because commenters were not required to provide their names or where they were from.

Under this anonymity, many monument supporters focused their comments on outdoor recreation and its importance in their lives. This was in stark contrast to locals who expressed fears over a monument prohibiting them from gathering wood to heat their homes in the winter, pushing cattle and ranching families off the range, and economically devastating their county. Monument advocates seemed to brush these concerns aside as they elevated their desire to hike, mountain bike and rock climb over the basic needs of San Juan County residents.

Once the meeting ended, the blue shirts filed one by one back onto the buses and made the long trek home. For them, their job was done and they could move on with their lives. But for locals, who are reliant on the land, they have to live with the decisions made by Sec. Jewell (who enthusiastically expressed a desire to vacation in the area) and the Obama administration. Southeastern Utah isn’t a vacation spot for local residents. It’s their home, their heritage and a place where their families have lived for generations.

Sec. Jewell, you came to Utah seeking local input. Unfortunately, what you saw and heard was theater staged by radical environmentalist outsiders intent on smothering local voices. This wasn’t local grassroots. This was astroturf.

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Correcting the record: park visitation data

Over the weekend, we were alerted that several numbers were incorrect in research conducted and published by the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC), titled Access Divided and commissioned by Sutherland Institute, that compared recreational access on federal and state public lands. Upon investigation, we found that this was due to a data-entry error at PERC. Just as journalists, academics and other prominent public voices regularly do when human error overcomes good review processes, PERC issued a correction to the report, and Sutherland removed links to the inaccurate data from a blog post highlighting the research and its results.

Some organizations opposed to Sutherland’s views on public land management have tried to use this mistake as a platform for hyperbolic accusations and demands. However, at Sutherland our intent is to seriously pursue thoughtful, well-informed and elevated dialogue on important public policy issues, not play “gotcha” or claim ideological victory.

The correction from PERC noted that the data error made no substantive changes to the discussion of and conclusions from their research. In other words, PERC’s work is as valid and relevant for policymakers and the public as it was before, the data-entry error notwithstanding.

Similarly, the policy conclusions Sutherland drew from PERC’s research remain valid and relevant: According to visitation data for state and national parks in the West, Western states are better able to manage public lands for recreation than Washington, D.C., which explains why total visitation at those state parks is nearly 80 percent higher than at the corresponding national parks, despite those national parks containing more than five times the number of acres as the state parks.

Certainly, there are many policy and legal nuances that fill in the blanks behind state superiority in recreational land management. For example, national parks are being managed for both environmental and recreational purposes, compared to the primarily recreational purposes of state parks. But these nuances explain, rather than contradict, Sutherland’s conclusion from the visitation data: The ability of states to focus on recreational access allows them to provide more popular (i.e. more visited) recreational opportunities than federal land managers can hope to achieve.

Sutherland has a well-documented history of correcting the record when we are wrong, and this is the case here. We hope that rather than using this mistake as cause for hyperbolic accusation and ideological celebration, reasonable people will choose to use this opportunity to delve more deeply into the real issues surrounding the management and care of our valuable public lands.

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Expensive EPA measures will do little to reduce Southwest haze

Last month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only partially accepted Utah’s regional plan for reducing haze in the Southwest’s national parks. Deeming the state’s plan insufficient, the EPA plans to impose its own measures aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide emitted from Utah’s coal plants.

“We are disappointed with the decision,” said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, “because the Utah plan relied on sound science and common sense, improving visibility at a reasonable cost to Utah ratepayers.” Bird is right. Not only does this new federal plan do little to improve visibility, but it will come at a huge cost.

Utah has been at the forefront of pollution reduction efforts in the Western United States, with emission reduction milestones from coal plants achieved seven years ahead of the EPA’s schedule, and completion of the Regional Haze State Implementation Plan five years earlier than most states.

The most recent five-year average indicates that visibility at Utah’s national parks and wilderness areas is improving on both the 20 percent worst and 20 percent best days, and the state has already achieved better visibility improvement than the preliminary reasonable progress projections for 2018.

Despite these great strides, the EPA is requiring central Utah’s coal plants to install selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology in an attempt to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. The cost estimate to install SCR at the Hunter and Huntington coal plants is $580 million, and it would require the demolition and reconstruction of much of the facilities. Utah’s decision not to require SCR on its coal plants is based more on limited benefit than on high cost.

A decade of research conducted by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality in collaboration with the EPA’s own technical staff has demonstrated why reductions in nitrogen oxide have not resulted in a corresponding reduction in visibility impairment in the Southwest’s national parks: The region has low levels of ammonia, a chemical compound that reacts with nitrogen oxide to produce ammonium nitrate – a significant cause of visibility impairment.

In other words, while SCR has been successful in other parts of the country, our climate and geography are such that the technology will do little to improve visibility.

The impacts of SCR on the Intermountain West’s haze issues is negligible. However, its effects on the economies of our rural counties are substantial. Carbon County officials say power plants and mineral extraction support 80 percent of the local economy, and for every power plant job that goes away, five other jobs are jeopardized or vanquished. The EPA’s SCR requirement threatens to shut down the lifeblood of Emery and Carbon Counties, which already struggle to keep up economically with the rest of the state.

The fact that air pollution exists in the Southwest’s national parks isn’t in question, and we ought to take measures that preserve the scenic beauty these places provide. But the measures being imposed by the EPA will do almost nothing to “de-haze” the region, and they slap a huge burden on rural Utahns. Let’s do something that would actually clean up the haze instead of needlessly sacrificing a thriving local industry, the economy it supports, and the families of central Utah.