You read that right. This week Utah Senator Orrin Hatch toured the state’s five national parks, promoting the state’s natural beauty as a draw for tourists across the country. Ironically, he also took time out of his tour to slam a proposed Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.
Yesterday Sen. Hatch met Utah Governor Gary Herbert at Natural Bridges National Monument, home to stunning red rock canyons and soaring natural bridges. Natural Bridges National Monument and Utah’s “Mighty 5” National Parks are great examples of the benefits of protecting our natural and cultural heritage. Last year roughly 95,000 people visited the remote Natural Bridges monument, pumping $5.8 million into surrounding communities. More than 8 million people visited Utah’s national parks last year, with tourists spending nearly $8 billion throughout the state, making tourism Utah’s largest “export” industry.
Almost like intellectual whiplash, in the midst of a tour marveling at Utah’s protected lands, Senator Hatch and Governor Herbert railed against protecting the surrounding landscape, which contains more than 100,000 archaeological sites and is plagued by looting and vandalism. A coalition of five Native American tribes considers the area sacred and have asked both Utah politicians and the president to protect the area.
Unfortunately this is just another chapter in a long history of Utah politicians not respecting Native American tribes in their quest to protect the Bears Ears region. Utah county commissioners have said that the tribes shouldn’t have a say in America’s public lands because they “lost the war.” And, the state legislature has called on the attorney general to investigate the tribes for supporting the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.
Sen. Hatch’s and Gov. Herbert’s strong opposition to a new national monument in southeastern Utah echoes a century’s-worth of anti-park advocates in the state, who railed against the very places now being celebrated by the state’s “Mighty 5” campaign. For example, when lawmakers first set out to protect Canyonlands as a national park, Wallace Bennett, a U.S. Senator from Utah, warned that “nearly all of Southern Utah’s growth would be forever stunted [should this area be protected].” Today, Canyonlands National Park draws over 600 thousand visitors and contributes more than $38 million to the local economy each year.
What both Sen. Hatch and Gov. Herbert failed to mention is that four of Utah’s five national parks were first protected as national monuments through presidential leadership using the the Antiquities Act, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks. Similarly, Natural Bridges National Monument—the place they chose to rail against President Obama protecting Bears Ears as a national monument—was protected by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 with the Antiquities Act.
Utah politicians are right to promote national public lands in the state as a great place for tourists to visit. These beautiful lands provide recreation opportunities for all Americans. At the same time, though, Governor Herbert and other Utah leaders are moving forward with a plan to sue the United States for control of federal lands within the state. This futile lawsuit could cost Utah taxpayers $14 million, and if it was to succeed, would lead to Utah selling public lands to private developers in order to pay for managing those lands.
Not only should Utah leaders support the proposed Bears Ears monument, they should make a U-turn from their reckless attempts to seize national public lands.
Photo: Tim Peterson, Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition