Monumental Battle: Utahns take sides in the struggle for Bears Ears

Surrounded by the new Bears Ears National Monument and in the shadow of Sundial Face, a sheer cliff beloved by rock climbers, is Dugout Ranch. Heidi Redd has lived here for half a century, running the Indian Creek Cattle Company—a woman in a traditionally male job—for 30 years before retiring in 2015. Her relationship with this wild landscape has endured government policies, environmental awakening and the Sagebrush Rebellion. Unlike most of her neighbors in Utah’s Four Corners region, Redd has reached an understanding with the land she loves.

“Fighting the monument is just wasting time. It’s time to get behind Bears Ears and make it work.”
–Heidi Redd

“You live out here so long without seeing anyone—you get the notion the land belongs to you,” says the tiny, lean Redd, who wears faded denim and her trademark “Gus” cowboy hat over her braided gray hair. When rock climbers first appeared on the rock faces, she felt a flash of anger that they hadn’t asked permission, even though her ranch runs cattle on 275,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property.

“Then one day, it dawns on you—this is public land, it belongs to everybody. They have as much right as I have to be out here,” Redd recalls. “But that attitude, that the land is yours, is something it takes time to step over.”

Redd says her neighbors, many of whom trace their lineage back to Mormon pioneers, need to accept the national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, if they want their families and descendants to thrive on the borders of the wild country. “Fighting the monument is just wasting time,” she says of the relentless campaign against Bears Ears. “I feel strongly it’s time to get behind Bears Ears and make it work.”

The New Range War

bears ears
Heidi Redd, 68, at the ranch tack room getting ready to saddle up for a cattle drive. The historic ranch is next to Canyonlands NP, UT.

So far, most of Redd’s neighbors are far from embracing any form of federally controlled public land, let alone the Bears Ears National Monument established by Barrack Obama in the waning days of his presidency. The Utah Legislature passed two resolutions this year calling for President Donald Trump to overturn Obama’s executive order, and a third resolution, unsuccessfully sponsored by Sagebrush Rebel Rep. Mike Noel, for the monument to be converted into a state park. The Republican-controlled Legislature is also girding for a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that would lay claim to almost all federal land in the state.

Joan and Bob Hosler, who own Thin Bear Indian Arts in Blanding, a town where the businesses of monument supporters are subject to boycotts, think the 1.35 million-acre monument is too big and too Big Government. “Folks won’t be able to do the things there they did before,” Joan says. “They won’t be able to hunt, graze cattle and cut wood in there.” Bob says it’s already too crowded.

An avid big-game hunter staying at a Monticello bed and breakfast, who has unsuccessfully applied 14 years running for a tag to hunt elk on Cedar Mesa, laments that hunting the famous trophy elk that haunt the new monument’s high country is now banned.

The truth is that much of what locals fear about the monument is hysterical anti-government propaganda. Bluff resident Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, says, “It’s understandable that people are confused, especially with the taxpayer-funded misinformation campaign—we have politicians who don’t get it—or don’t want to get it.”

Ewing says the key to protecting the monument is careful management and public education. “My hope is that we can keep things entirely as we do today, but treat it more respectfully.”

But better management in the form of additional rangers, educators and even restrooms may be sabotaged. Rep. Jason Chaffetz has vowed to fight any additional funding to public lands. “In the ’70s the area had seven BLM rangers. Now it has two,” Ewing says. “You need more people on the ground managing and educating folks.”

Roots of Anger

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An ancient petroglyph graces The Comb Ridge. Photo by Josh Ewing.

The primary purpose of the Bears Ears Monument designation is to protect the thousands of ancient ruins, artifacts and rock art, much of it undiscovered, tucked into the canyons—Hopi, Navajo, Zuni and Ute tribes will advise the BLM in managing the new monument. But part of the hatred locals hold for the federal government is rooted in a June 2009 FBI raid. SWAT teams rounded up 22 locals, including leading citizens, charging them with robbing and selling pottery and woven baskets from native ruins—the biggest bust in the long history of looting ancient American Indian burial sites.

The raid quickly turned into a public-relations catastrophe for the feds that ended in the suicides of two collectors—a beloved local physician, and the FBI informer. The artifact robbers, seen locally as victims of government thugs, all reached plea agreements. Now, federal employees in the area are shunned and BLM property is sometimes vandalized.

Often forgotten in the ongoing political dispute are the Ute and Navajo. In their mythologies the land and its antiquities are sacred. Former San Juan County Commissioner and Utah Navajo Mark Maryboy has little common ground with the Sagebrush Rebels like San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and state Rep. Mike Noel, who led protest ATV rides into restricted BLM canyons. Maryboy told High Country News “I wonder how [Lyman] would feel if I went to the Blanding Cemetery and led a posse over their graves?”

A Threatened Rural Culture

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Jim Stiles, cartoonist and Canyon Country Zephyr editor, has long argued against the dangers of a runaway tourism economy that destroys the traditional cultures.

Although at the national level the public lands debate may be seen as between the “drill, baby, drill” faction and environmentalists, a third group of locals has deep and nuanced misgivings about the monument. They fear it—and the deeply-rooted farming, ranching and mining culture around it—will be destroyed by too much love and capitalism. In short, they fear the towns—Bluff, in particular—will go the way of nearby Moab, where so-called Big Recreation and tourism have taken over and growth amounts to jobs at fast-food restaurants and as seasonal guides.

Jim Stiles, long-time editor of the Canyon Country Zephyr, eloquently makes the arguments of the leave-it-as-it-is faction. Stiles is particularly annoyed by would-be do-gooders who call on the rural communities to embrace the opportunities of ecotourism—including “jobs as swing-shift line cooks”—or get what they deserve.

“In other words,” Stiles writes, “it’s time for the rural West to go.  In the view of many, it’s simply time for the ‘Old West’ and even the ‘Original West’—Native Americans that came first—in fact, anyone who clings to traditional lifestyles and customs and occupations—to step aside for an amenities/recreation/tourism-driven New West economy. Resistance, they believe, is futile.”

But Ewing sees a solution in careful protection and education. “It depends on what you define as Big Recreation. If it’s anybody but Jim Stiles going for a hike—there’s a 100 percent chance of Big Recreation developing the area. You can’t see a beautiful shot of someone recreating in Bears Ears and not want to do it yourself. If you don’t have management for that, then damage can be done.”

Call for Change

Bears Ears
Heidi Redd and Topher Dalrymple ride up Cottonwood Creek to look for cattle. Much of this section of the creek is experiencing severe erosion called cut backs. Photo by Ted Wood.

Heidi Redd’s savvy and creativity in holding onto her ranch could be an inspiration to the broader community. In 1997, she and her ex-husband sold the ranch to the Nature Conservancy, shunning more lucrative offers. “I had offers from people who wanted to make the ranch into a golf course,” she says. “I didn’t want to see this beautiful canyon developed as a gated community.”

In exchange, the Nature Conservancy will allow Redd to live on the ranch until her death. Since she retired, the Conservancy has taken over the cattle operation with her son as manager. The ranch has also become a research lab for scientists studying climate change—something most of her neighbors deny—and its effects on the habitat, including cattle ranching. “We have a great exchange with the scientists,” Redd says. “They teach us what they learned and I give them a historic perspective on the climate and the land.”

Redd has tired of the monument opponents’ rhetoric. “You can’t live keeping things they way they were 50 years ago,” she says. “Things will continuously change. You have to embrace it.”

Redd has even less faith in Utah’s politically conservative leaders. “They say they have no intention of selling the public lands if they got them,” she says. “But if the economy changes, they’ll sell them. I feel much more comfortable with federal control of the land. I’m scared to death of what this state would do with these public lands if they got them.” 

It’s About the Economy, Stupid! How a political bluff cost Utah millions

Bears Ears
Outdoor merchants took their $100 million ball and left Utah.

The battle over Bears Ears claimed its first economic casualty in February, when Outdoor Retailer, the world’s largest trade show for the outdoor industry, announced it would no longer host its twice-yearly event in Utah.

The show’s owner, Emerald Expositions, said in a news release that it would not include Utah in its request for proposals from cities hoping to host Outdoor Retailer, an event that has brought 40,000 visitors and $100 million to Salt Lake City each year. Instead, the show will end a 20-year relationship with Salt Lake when the contract expires in 2018. Interbike, a cycling trade show also owned by Emerald Expositions, also announced it would end talks to move its event to Salt Lake City from its current host city of Las Vegas. The event attracts approximately 23,000 attendees and $30 million annually.

The exit announcement came after months of dissent from show vendors, frustrated with Gov. Gary Herbert’s request for President Donald Trump to repeal the Bears Ears National Monument. Patagonia was the first to boycott the show. The company’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, accused Herbert and other political leaders in Utah of “denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business, and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder.”

More than 100 vendors at Outdoor Retailer followed suit, exiting the trade show with scathing open letters to Utah’s elected officials. “If we all band together, it’s actually going to sting,” said Peter Dering, founder of San Francisco-based Peak Designs. “Plenty of states who do the right thing are ready and willing to take Utah’s place.”

One of those states is Colorado, which began aggressively courting Emerald Expositions with  ads framing Colorado as an ideal location for future shows, including one from Conservation Colorado in Utah newspapers that proclaims: “We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation. But most of all, we love our public lands.”

The future home of Outdoor Retailer has not yet been decided, but one thing is clear: Come 2018, it definitely won’t be Utah. Kate Lowery, communications director for Outdoor Retailer, says that bridge is burned. In the meantime, the show is working to salvage what vendors have not individually pulled from Salt Lake’s remaining two conventions by promoting the show as an opportunity to showcase not only their products, but their advocacy. “Outdoor Retailer and Outdoor Industry Association will harness the creative ideas already being put forth by exhibitors to express their opinions,” said Lowery. “We are already exploring options, including utilizing the time and funds earmarked for the Industry Breakfast as a time to express our opinions; rallies; conservation town halls; and a community campout using city parks, among other ideas.” — Susan Lacke

The Monuments are Here to Stay. What is done likely can’t be undone.

In a letter to President Trump, Utah’s all-GOP congressional delegation called Bears Ears “uniquely offensive” and demanded an immediate rollback of the designation, saying, “what can be done by presidential action can be undone by presidential action.”

Their assumption is that Obama’s mandate, which seemingly happened with the flick of a pen, can be overturned just as quickly. But revoking a national monument designation isn’t so easy, says Professor John Ruple of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“No president has tried to eliminate a national monument, and President Trump’s power to do so is suspect at best,” Ruple explains. “When a president proclaims a national monument, the president is not exercising his inherent authority, but rather, he is using powers granted to Congress in the U.S. Constitution and then delegated by Congress to the president via the Antiquities Act.”

Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 to address rampant looting of archaeological sites (a crime familiar to southeast Utah). “Congress realized that it was not nimble enough to identify and protect important sites, so it expressly granted the president the power to designate national monuments to safeguard national treasures,” says Ruple.

Opponents of Bears Ears say Congress never intended for the Antiquities Act to apply to small parcels. But the U.S. Supreme Court refuted that argument in 1920, when it unanimously upheld Roosevelt’s designation of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

The Antiquities Act, then, gives the president power to create monuments—but doesn’t include a mechanism to rescind them. Contrary to the GOP’s assertion, Trump couldn’t revoke the designation with a scribble of his gold-plated pen.

Congress could eliminate the monument, but no historic precedent exists for such a radical action. States, including Utah, have filed challenges before, but no monument has ever been struck down by a court of law.

Instead, Ruple says President Trump’s most likely course of action will be to significantly reduce the size of the monument. The last time this happened was 1953, when President Kennedy redrew the Bandelier National Monument boundaries, both adding and subtracting land to enhance resource protection. Only once has a president reduced a national monument by more than 100,000 acres: In 1915, Woodrow Wilson redrew the boundary of Olympus National Monument (now Olympic National Park) to increase lumber production. “World War I was raging, the U.S. was supplying most of the lumber the Allies needed to build aircraft and ships, and the boundary reduction made much needed lumber available to support the war effort,” says Ruple. “Obviously, no similar need to reduce Bears Ears exists today.” — Susan Lacke

Land of Ghosts Bears Ears’ canyons hide a scared history

Bears Ears
©2017 Robert Arrington Photography

In Utah’s southeasternmost reaches lies a land of secrets thinly veiled—a vast wilderness where once an ancient people thrived. An expedition onto Cedar Mesa in San Juan County and into the newly proclaimed Bears Ears National Monument brings back childhood thrills of searching, seeking and finding wonder and mystery. The 1.35-million-acre-monument protects 100,000 archaeological sites and evidence of the ancient people who lived here around 1200 AD. Beyond every corner of every canyon lingers the anticipation of discovery and the air hangs heavy with ghosts. There is an informal tradition among the locals to keep tight -lipped about the locations of the more fragile ruins, so finding and rediscovering the sites is part of the adventure. The Kane Gulch Ranger Station at a main entry to the Grand Gulch primitive area is an oasis of advice, guidance and permits. Open only for the morning hours and entirely closed during the height of summer heat and depths of winter, visitors should stop here for guidance, maps, interpretive displays and education in protecting the monument’s antiquities. Staff can guide hikers to accessible ruins in areas like Mule Canyon. Get to the station early if you want to snag one of the 20 permits issued daily to explore the remote and legendary Moon House Ruin.

Moon House Ruin is among the most famous of the Cedar Mesa ruins, known for its mysterious petroglyphs and intricate structure. But it is a fragile site, difficult to access and, in an attempt to limit footprints, the Bureau of Land Management offers only 20 permits a day, along with warnings to protect the site. With that in mind, I set off down the highway looking for the dirt road that will lead me to another dirt road that will finally lead me to the trail head. The word “road” is charitably employed out here and the passage is often full of steep ruts that require vehicles with substantial ground-clearance and four-wheel drive. Stuck in the middle of Cedar Mesa is not a good thing to be. I carefully pick my way to the trailhead.

Once there, I encounter a stern hike down one canyon wall and up another, marked by cairns and boot prints. But I have the place to myself as I scramble from rock pile to rock pile and look around at the plentiful shade and water that 1,000 years ago made this a good place to call home. The unusual thing about Moon House itself is that it contains a second layer, inside, a hallway or corridor that leads to its innermost rooms. The ghosts are thick here as I pause in the corridors’ gloom to examine the evidence of the ancients. One of the rooms contains two atypical negative petroglyphs, in the shapes of a circle and a crescent, carved out of a band of white paint. BLM archeologists think the celestial-themed petroglyphs may be a record of a solar eclipse that occurred when Moon House was a thriving settlement. The theories of modern man fade as I gather my own thoughts in the darkness and stare hard at the black circle of sun or moon and absorb the silence. I feel the hands and creative impulse that put the petroglyph here, and shiver. Ghosts lurk on Cedar Mesa and the thrill of meeting them is unlike few experiences you’ll have. Visit with a curious mind and kind heart and they will speak to you, too. But tread lightly because they are watching.— Jeremy Pugh

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