Op-ed: We must protect wild Utah

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Arch canyon area of Bears Ears as Media members get a chance to fly over the Bears Ears National Monument with EcoFLIGHT on Monday, May 8, 2017.

For more than two decades I have been privileged to explore the special southeast corner of our state. Constantly drawing me back are Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the area now protected as Bears Ears National Monument. Their unique characters leave me wide-eyed and breathless, and I have visited only a fraction of each. My greatest desire is that my children, and generations after I am gone, will see it just the way I have: wild, unspoiled, vast, mysterious, challenging.

The Antiquities Act, which allows the president to protect places of “historic or scientific interest,” was rightfully and appropriately invoked in the creation of each of these inspiring places. These two monuments have within their borders artifacts of civilizations with histories that date back thousands of years; remains of previously unknown dinosaurs, and plant and animal species found nowhere else. Grand Staircase rightfully has been called “the science monument,” having yielded incredible discoveries in its brief 20-year history.

Bears Ears offers a unique opportunity to preserve and protect the ghostly, evocative reminders of those who settled the area long before the modern era. But an even more powerful opportunity comes from the tribes who longed and pleaded for this land to be set apart: the opportunity to see history through the eyes of direct descendants. I have never been at a meeting sponsored by Navajo, Hopi, Zuni or Ute people where the offer hasn’t been made: “Come and learn from us. We want to share our feelings for and knowledge of this land with you.” The offer is sincere and thrilling. How enlightening and humbling would be the lessons we could learn!

But our political class, seemingly able to focus only on things that can be measured with a dollar sign, would deny us the vast benefits bestowed by these remarkable monuments. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s “investigative” visit was an orchestrated sham, an inverse Potemkin village of the alleged aggrieved, a festival of cherry-picking….

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