By Matthew Anderson

Sutherland Institute has been engaged in the debate surrounding the Bears Ears National Monument for more than 16 months. We at Sutherland have spent countless hours on the ground listening to local tribes, San Juan County residents and locally elected officials. Their voices, stories and perspectives alone provide sufficient evidence to alter the designation of the monument. After all, no one has a more vested interest in protecting and preserving this area than these local individuals who know and love these public lands the most. Sutherland Institute – a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions – echoes their concerns but also adds that the criteria set forth in Executive Order 13792 warrant a recession of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Criteria (i) The requirements and original objectives of the Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected”

National monuments are no longer about protecting specific historical and cultural sites. Instead, political gamesmanship, outdoor recreation, climate change, and other motivations inconsistent with the original intent of the Antiquities Act rule the designation process. These ulterior motives have expanded national monuments well beyond “the smallest area compatible” with protecting archaeological sites. According to National Park Service data, newly designated monuments averaged just 15,573 acres in 1906, when the Antiquities Act was passed. National monuments designated last year averaged 739,645 acres – more than 47 times the size of those created 110 years ago. The Bears Ears National Monument is not exempt from these and other ulterior motives, and its expansive size clearly falls well outside of the original objectives of the Antiquates Act.

Criteria (ii) whether designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest”

President Barack Obama’s presidential proclamation establishing the Bears Ears National Monument lists objects like “mule deer,” “sagebrush” and “star filled nights” as justification for the designation. None of these (or most of the other objects listed in the Proclamation) qualify as antiquities. Furthermore, they aren’t unique to San Juan County and can be found throughout the Western United States. The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect Southwestern petroglyphs, ancient cliff dwellings, and other Native American archaeological sites. Using commonplace objects, such as those listed in Obama’s proclamation, flies in the face of the original intent of the Antiquities Act and provides avenues for presidential overreach.

Criteria (iii) the effects of a designation on the available uses of designated Federal lands, including consideration of the multiple-use policy of section 102(a)(7) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701(a)(7)), as well as the effects on the available uses of Federal lands beyond the monument boundaries

Utahns have seen firsthand that national monuments restrict access and multiple uses of public lands. For example, there is a sign outside the Natural Bridges National Monument in San Juan County that reads in big bold letters: “No Woodcutting.” Local Native Americans who rely on wood to heat their homes, cook their food and build their fences have been denied access to this life-sustaining resource. Even when monument management plans “guarantee” that certain activities will continue after a designation, Utahns know monuments hold hollow promises.

The last national monument designated in Utah illustrates this reality. When President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Garfield and Kane counties, his proclamation promised residents that grazing would continue: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to affect existing permits or leases, or levels of livestock grazing on federal lands within the monument.”

Nearly 20 years later, the number of animals grazing on the monument has declined by almost a third. The Bureau of Land Management has revoked permits and closed much-needed rangeland. Those ranchers left in the area face an uphill battle. They can’t extend or move water lines within their allotments, fence riparian areas, maintain roads, or take other necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of their livestock. This is slowly pushing cattle off the range and ranchers off the land their families have worked for generations.

Criteria (iv) the effects of a designation on the use and enjoyment of non-Federal lands within or beyond monument boundaries;

While ATV riding, woodcutting, the gathering of traditional herbs and medicines, grazing, and a host of other activities are threatened by the Bears Ears National Monument, the designation extends well beyond federal lands. In addition to the private property within the monument, 109,000 acres of state trust land is affected. These lands’ sole purpose is to produce funding for Utah’s schoolchildren. The Bears Ears National Monument will severely restrict how these lands are used and the venue they produce. Obama’s designation impacts public schools throughout the state of Utah.

Criteria (v) concerns of State, tribal, and local governments affected by a designation, including the economic development and fiscal condition of affected States, tribes, and localities

Utah’s entire congressional delegation, Governor Gary Herbert, the state Legislature, the Aneth Chapter of the Navajo Nation, and all of San Juan County’s commissioners, its school board and city councils opposed the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. While each has unique reasons for this position, economic development is a consistent theme throughout. San Juan County currently contains all or part of one national park, three national monuments, a national recreation area and a national forest. Yet it is the poorest county in the state of Utah and one of the most economically depressed counties in the entire nation. Healthy economies rely on a host of activities to drive them. While tourism has a prominent place in San Juan County’s economy, it alone is not the answer to the county’s economic woes.

Criteria (vi) the availability of Federal resources to properly manage designated areas

Obama’s proclamation charges the BLM and USFS to provide added protections for the new national monument. However, these two federal agencies are strapped for cash – having a combined deferred maintenance backlog of more than $6 billion. When you consider that the new monument will bring more tourists but not added protection, it is clear that the cliff dwellings, cultural resources and pristine landscape will be put at risk as never before.

Sutherland Institute recommends that the Bears Ears National Monument be rescinded, based on the above criteria and the calls from San Juan County residents and their elected officials. Land management doesn’t have to be seen in terms of winners and losers. Economic development, conservation, protection of cultural resources and recreation can all coexist on public lands. Rescinding the Bears Ears National Monument will pave the way for this type of management and secure the American dream for the people of San Juan County.


Matt Anderson is director of Sutherland Institute’s Coalition for Self-Government in the West. He has been featured in local, national and international media, including BBC, NPR, C-SPAN, Buzzfeed, the Washington Examiner and a variety of Associated Press articles. Matt is a regular contributor to The Hill and Deseret News.

Matt graduated from Utah State University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and is pursuing a master’s of political science with an emphasis in public lands policy. He is an active member of his community – volunteering on political campaigns, serving as a state delegate and precinct chair – and he is involved with a number of conservation organizations. When Matt isn’t working on public policy, you are likely to find him in Utah’s Bear River Mountain Range fly-fishing, hunting or ATV riding.


Your Gifts Create an Impact

Together we will promote and protect the free market, civil society and community-driven solutions. Join the fight to protect what’s right!

Get the inside scoop sent straight to your inbox! Exclusive event invitations, breaking news, and behind-the-scenes insights.