Jay Evensen: Why a Trump ‘Bears Ears’ decision won’t be the last word

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Bears Ears, of the Bears Ears National Monument, are seen on Monday, May 8, 2017.


Seven months ago, after a bitter public hearing on Utah’s Capitol Hill was cut short because Republican lawmakers didn’t like how the boisterous crowd expressed its support of former President Barack Obama’s version of a Bears Ears Monument, I made a prediction.

Turn the issue around and you would find the players changing sides and adopting each other’s lines, like some dramatic exercise in an acting class. “The American political landscape has become a place where the sense of hearing is unnecessary, and even inconvenient,” I wrote. That includes, apparently, the sense of listening to one’s self with a sense of irony.

A recently leaked memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to President Donald Trump, outlining in vague terms a recommendation to reduce the sizes of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments, illustrates this perfectly.

When Obama declared 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears area a monument, Utah’s conservative leaders railed against it as an overreach under the Antiquities Act — a piece of legislation passed in 1906 to give presidents the nimbleness to protect ancient artifacts from pothunters and looters. Some repeated the oft-heard call to repeal that act.

Environmentalist and tribal leaders, on the other hand, praised the decision.

Now, after the leaked memo, the roles are reversed. Many conservatives are praising the idea of a president shrinking the monuments. Environmentalists are calling it a “political charade,” among other things.

It may be safely said still that neither side is listening to the other.

This is one instance where it’s easy to identify the culprit. No matter the good intentions behind granting Theodore Roosevelt some nimbleness in the fight against pothunters, the Antiquities Act gives one politician, the president, unfettered power.

Whether it’s Obama declaring 1.35 million acres or Trump declaring something much less, it is still one man making a declaration.

He doesn’t have to ask Congress. He…

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