As the Trump administration continues to stoke a debate around commemorating our nation’s history, it’s increasingly clear whose culture they don’t care about. Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly recommended that President Trump eliminate nearly 90 percent of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, an area sacred to Native American tribes across the Southwest. This unprecedented and illegal action would endanger tens of thousands of archaeological sites over an area the size of Glacier National Park.
For more than 80 years, tribes and conservationists have worked to protect this stunning red rock landscape full of ruins, rock art and other cultural sites. Last year, at the urging of five Southwestern tribes, President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument to celebrate Native American cultural history and to protect these archaeological sites from looting and vandalism.
Thursday, Secretary Zinke concluded his “review” of 27 national monuments by sending a set of recommendations to President Trump. While the Trump administration is keeping the report secret, press reports from the Washington Post and New York Times have confirmed that Secretary Zinke is recommending drastic steps to eliminate large swaths of multiple national monuments, including Bears Ears.
Erasing huge chunks of our parks from the map was Secretary Zinke’s intended outcome from the beginning of his four-month review of 27 national monuments. During that time, Zinke visited Utah to meet with rabidly anti-public lands politicians and monument opponents, while shutting out a strong and diverse coalition of Bears Ears supporters. Similarly, Zinke received more than 2.7 million comments from Americans virtually united in their demand that he leave our national monuments alone. In a brief report summary devoid of any details, Zinke summarily dismissed monument supporters, saying their opinions were “false” and with “no basis in fact.”
A new report from Archaeology Southwest shows just how damaging it would be for President Trump to unprotect Bears Ears National Monument. Dozens of leading archaeologists noted that, while the park encompasses an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites, only around 10 percent of the area has been surveyed. These ruins and rock art have long been threatened by heavy looting and vandalism. In 2009, the Bureau of Land Management uncovered thousands of looted objects, such as pots and woven baskets, taken from ruins and grave sites.
A map prepared by the state of Utah shows just how widespread antiquities and historic sites are across Bears Ears. There is no way President Trump and Secretary Zinke could shrink Bears Ears by nearly 90 percent without leaving the vast majority of these antiquities unprotected.
From Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado to Hovenweep National Monument in Utah, presidents have designated parks, using our national monuments law, the Antiquities Act, to protect and celebrate tribal history and culture. Now Secretary Zinke is proposing that President Trump take unprecedented and illegal action to take us backwards. In the era of modern public lands law, no president has attempted to shrink or eliminate a national monument, and legal scholars believe such a move would be illegal.
If President Trump and Secretary Zinke decide to eviscerate Bears Ears National Monument and wipe large chunks of our national monuments off the map, they will stand squarely on the wrong side of history. The solution is simple: President Trump should put these recommendations where they belong — in the trash can.