Every hiker, climber, and mountain biker has at one point or another traveled on publicly managed or protected lands. Whether it be national parks, forests, or monuments, public lands protected by the federal government are used for a wide variety of activities by millions of outdoor enthusiasts.
Recently, it has come into question whether or not national monument sites designated after 1996 should continue to be federally managed and protected, or if they should be put back under the control of the state of which they are located in.
Bears Ears National Monument, which encompasses 1.35 million acres in Utah, is the most controversial of these monuments in question.
While many assumed that president Obama’s national monument designation in 2016 would permanently protect this area, they were quickly disappointed to hear that this massive protected area may fall back into the hands of the Utah state government less than a year later.
Many fear that this could potentially place the land in danger of oil and mining interests that may pollute or otherwise disturb the currently pristine desert landscape.
Politics aside, what exactly do we stand to lose should Bears Ears National Monument be stripped of its national monument status? In other words, what does Bears Ears contain that is worth protecting?
Within its 1.35 million acres, the Bears Ears National Monument is home to world famous rock climbing, paddling, hiking, and mountain biking locations. Few other public areas can host such a wide range of activities which is why many outdoor enthusiasts are particularly concerned about the future of this monument.
Perhaps the most well-known recreation area that falls within the realm of Bears Ears National Monument is “Indian Creek”. Indian Creek is a world famous rock climbing destination renowned for its perfect sandstone “splitter” cracks that are a true favorite among rock climbers.
Indian Creek climbers fear that if Bears Ears loses its monument status, there is a chance that access to these cliffs could be threatened as they have been in other locations across the US.
Losing any part of Indian Creek would be absolutely devastating to the worldwide rock climbing community, which is why rock climbers are some of the loudest voices to be heard when it comes to protesting the decision to potentially revoke the national monument status from Bears Ears.
It’s far from just the climbers speaking up for Bears Ears, though. Kayakers and stand up paddle boarders are concerned about the stretch of the San Juan River that runs through the monument.
This beautiful stretch of river offers a spectacular water route which winds through the desert among incredible rock formations.
Hikers and mountain bikers, too, want to preserve the vast network of trails that weave their way through the area, bringing them to remote locations where they can enjoy the desert solitude.
Perhaps the most vulnerable areas of Bears Ears national monument are the Native American archaeological sites. All across the monument, ancient dwellings and petroglyphs can be found. Hundreds of years old, these sites are irreplaceable and are of great value to the descendants of these Native American tribes. Unfortunately, vandalism has become an increasingly large problem as people damage petroglyphs and steal Native American artifacts.
As a monument, it would be possible to protect these areas from further vandalism and preserve them for future generations. In the hands of the state, however, many fear that they will remain open to theft and destruction from those who fail to appreciate the value of these ancient sites.
Only time will tell what will happen to Bears Ears and the many other national monuments that stand to be potentially handed back into state control and out of federal protection.
Regardless of whether or not you think the federal or state governments should be the ones in charge of these public lands, it’s easy to see that Bears Ears National Monument, in particular holds immense value for the outdoor community, and any destruction to this beautiful area by private interests would be very disappointing.
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