Tribes to Biden on his promise: “The time to act is now”
In the last few months, a number of new mining and drilling claims have been staked on land then-President Trump unlawfully cut from Bears Ears National Monument, including uranium claims that, if developed, pose a radioactive threat to local communities.
These and other urgent threats underscore the need for President Biden to keep his promise and restore protection to Bears Ears and other national monuments right away.
In May, the five sovereign Indigenous nations that make up the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition-- the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Zuni Tribe—launched a campaign based on that message, telling President Biden, simply, “The time to act is now.”
It’s been nearly five months since the president launched an official review of Trump’s unlawful cuts to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments.
Meanwhile, many threats loom:
Oil and gas companies are trying to invade Bears Ears, as seen in this map of nominated leases in formerly protected areas, including 40,000 acres’ worth of nominated leases since January of this year: If the current freeze on new public lands leases is lifted, these areas could be on the auction block for oil and gas drilling.
There have been 14 mining claims staked inside the original Bears Ears monument boundaries since Trump made his cuts in 2017, including six since March of 2021. This map from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance shows mining claims within Bears Ears:
These include uranium claims that threaten to taint local communities, waters and lands with dangerous radiation.
Meanwhile, nearly half (46 percent) of the lands eliminated from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument have high or very high fossil potential, and nearly 250,000 acres of these lands directly conflict with energy development areas (mostly potential coal mining sites):
Since Trump’s rollbacks, there is heightened concern about looting and associated damage to Bears Ears’ cultural resources. Clark Tenakhongva, vice president of the Hopi Tribe, has reported increased vandalism, off-road vehicle and foot traffic in the monument area. In recent months, there has been a rash of vandalism incidents in the region and beyond. For instance, petroglyphs near Arches National Park have been damaged by visitors, and one site, the famed “Birthing Rock,” was defaced with racist and vulgar language.
A geologist who met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland when she visited Utah in April said looting of fossil sites is an ongoing problem in the Bears Ears region. In 2018, paleontologists reported a fossil specimen from ex-Bears Ears land that bore telltale signs of looting. Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument is considered an important source of dinosaur and other fossils, and damage to, or theft of, those fossils is an ever-present concern.
Enough waiting: President Biden must keep his promise
The time for deliberation is over. It’s time to listen to the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition and act now.
Please tell President Biden to keep his promise and immediately restore and strengthen protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments.