Accompanied by tall tales of widespread sell-offs to energy companies and Wild West-style dashes for mining claims, corporate and environmental interests painted a picture of an unrestrained drilling bonanza to whip the public into a frenzy over Bears Ears.
After all that bombast, not one entity has shown up to file a permit application. Not a single one since the “doomsday clock” expired on Feb. 2.
The remoteness of the area, combined with the reality that few energy-resource deposits exist, provides extraction companies little to no motivation for developing the area. As one Western environmental group put it, “drilling for oil and gas in Bears Ears over the last 70 years has resulted in little but dry holes.” The only resource with any real potential is uranium, but its price has dropped by more than 80 percent in the last decade, stamping out any interest in opening new mines. The fact is, incentives matter.
The environmentalists’ “sky is falling” mentality is understandable and somewhat expected. These groups are passionate about our public lands, and they may feel as though they’ve lost everything with Trump’s decision. In fact, the day after Trump’s announcement, some angrily declared to America that “The President Stole Your Land.” These are the cries and actions of those who feel desperate and disregarded.
While separated by almost a year and a different administration, these same sentiments were shared by the people of San Juan County, who overwhelmingly opposed the Bears Ears designation. They too felt ignored, frustrated, and helpless.
Locals’ history, culture, and future depend on traditional access to public lands and the life-sustaining resources they provide. Simply put, public lands are their whole world. Despite the pleas of local Native Americans, ranchers, farmers, and county residents from all walks of life, former President Barack Obama unilaterally declared the expansive 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument without their input.
It is time they work together and get to the root of the problem.
The Antiquities Act puts far too much power in the hands of one person. With the stroke of a pen, the president can create, enlarge, shrink, or even rescind national monuments, devoid of any counsel from interested stakeholders. This flies in the face of the democratic process and leads to the angst and anxiety each side feels. Each sits on pins and needles, dreading how an incoming president will use unchecked authority to create or alter national monuments.
Instead of this arbitrary system, the Antiquities Act should be transformed into a law by, of, and for the people, where constitutional principles safeguard the environment, protect archaeological sites, create abundant recreational opportunities, and secure the American Dream for rural communities. By placing a check on the executive branch and involving our elected officials, we can ensure that each side of the debate will be heard and that compromise and collaboration will prevail.
We are better than this. We don’t need to relegate public lands debates to doomsday clocks, tall tales, and internet hysteria. These tactics do nothing but drive division and escalate tensions. Both sides of the issue should draw on their shared love of public lands and heed the call of their better angels by working together to produce viable and sensible public land management.