Utah Senator Sympathizes with Extremists, Demonstrating Why Bears Ears Needs Immediate Protection from Looting and Destruction

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch just wrapped up his tour of Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks by doubling down on his opposition to protecting archaeological sites in Utah’s Bears Ears region.

Over the weekend, Sen. Hatch offered up an implicit endorsement of the threats of violence against park rangers who protect our public lands in Utah, telling the Washington Post:

“I would hope that my fellow Utahans would not use violence, but there are some deeply held positions that cannot just be ignored.”

Consider the implications of that statement. When presented with an opportunity to condemn violence, or make it clear that there are thousands of culturally significant sites within Bears Ears that are in urgent need of protection, Sen. Hatch instead sympathized with people who threaten violence if President Obama steps in to provide those protections.

Attempted theft using a rock saw. Photo by Friends of Cedar Mesa.

According to the Post, the Bears Ears region has seen at least two dozen looting incidents over the past five years, with a half dozen in the past six months alone. This is the same area where the FBI broke up a major antiquities ring in 2009 in a raid that included the grandson of a town founder. The raid recovered thousands of stolen artifacts that that belonged to tribes in the region.

Seven years later, the theft and destruction of tribal artifacts continues, and now Senator Hatch is raising the prospect of violence if President Obama takes action to stop it. When a sitting senator defends the “deeply held positions” of a small number of extremists, he appears to justify the looting and grave robbing that plagues the region, regardless of whether he intends to endorse illegal activity.

President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906 because looting like this had become a major problem in the Southwest. The act gives the president the power to protect lands that are at imminent risk of destruction. One hundred ten years later, it’s clear Bears Ears is not only at risk, it’s actively being destroyed.

Grave robbers left these human remains exposed. Photo by Friends of Cedar Mesa.

Bears Ears is a textbook example of why congress gave the president authority to declare monuments without congressional action. Utah’s congressional delegation has done nothing to protect Bears Ears; the long-promised Public Lands Initiative still hasn’t been introduced in congress, despite a high-profile rollout five months ago.

Faced with the ongoing looting and destruction of tribal artifacts and the refusal of Utah’s politicians to pass legislation that protects Bears Ears, it is well within President Obama’s purview to step in with the Antiquities Act and provide long-overdue defense to the region.

See the damage

A hogan burned by campers. Photo by Friends of Cedar Mesa.
Bullet holes in a petroglyph. Photo by Friends of Cedar Mesa.
Ruin wall toppled by illegally grazing cattle. Photo by Friends of Cedar Mesa.
Fragile soil damaged by illegal ATV riding. Photo by Friends of Cedar Mesa.