Conservation is not a conservative principle anymore. Today President Trump signed presidential proclamations that will take the unprecedented step of dramatically shrinking two national monuments in Utah. The moves are largely seen as favors to Senator Orin Hatch, a frequent Trump apologist. This part of the American West frequently suffers from antiquities looting on the part of local residents, and the designation of these monuments was an important step to reduce the destruction and looting of these sites. A step that the Trump administration now is attempting to undo.
The reductions in these national monuments are a seldom-used step, one few other presidents have considered since the Antiquities Act was created in 1906. The New York Times reported that reductions have occurred before—Woodrow Wilson reduced the size of Mount Olympus, and Franklin Roosevelt reduced the size of the Grand Canyon monument.
Trump’s attempted reduction in size is not yet known, and will have to survive likely legal challenges, but mark an unfortunate step away from preservation of natural and cultural heritage. Instead the short-sighted move seems to prioritize development, mineral extraction, and ranching. Tribal groups are likely to be impacted most directly, and as a result some have already announced plans to challenge the reduction in court. The Navajo Nation in a statement declared:
The decision to reduce the size of the [Bears Ears] Monument is being made with no tribal consultation. The Navajo Nation will defend Bear Ears . . . . The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.
Former Senator and U.S. Representative Mark Udall argues President Obama could still set aside the “Bears Ears” National Monument:
The president has a rare opportunity to advance this proud tradition by protecting a spectacular area critical to our western heritage: Bears Ears, a 1.9 million-acre area in southern Utah replete with thousands of historic and cultural sites.
President Obama has already demonstrated his commitment to preserving and protecting unique public treasures for generations to come. He did so with Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado and again with Browns Canyon in Chaffee County. I was proud to champion both bipartisan efforts to protect these landscapes for future generations.
The president now has the chance to preserve lands vital to our nation’s heritage and history with the support of five Native American tribes whose heritage is memorialized in this area. He should utilize the Antiquities Act to protect the Bears Ears region in southeast Utah — a site that represents our western pioneering history and that of the tribal communities across the region, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
Numerous Native American tribes trace their roots to Bears Ears. In fact, the strongest voices in favor of a designation have come from the Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Zuni tribes. The site also is home to artifacts from pioneers who made a home in the American West.
One of the prominent natural features in the landscape is Jacob’s Chair, named after my great-great grandfather, Jacob Hamlin, who was known as the Mormon Pathfinder. Hamlin spent his life working tirelessly to resolve conflicts that arose between the newly arrived settlers and the deeply rooted Native American tribes and bands already living in the area. His vision encompassed a future where both groups lived and worked together collaboratively, respecting each other’s traditions and beliefs, and living in harmony with the land. A Bears Ears National Monument would be a 21st century investment in that vision.
Brendan Borrell has an interesting piece for Scientific American following up on the number of arrests which focused on the theft of Native American objects from the four corners region, which has been described as a massive outdoor museum. Pictured here are the Butler Wash ruins near Blanding.
Two Utah senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have both called on Congress to investigate the actions of the federal agents surrounding the arrests, which led to one apparent suicide, the raid of one home for 10 hours, involving 300 agents and a SWAT team.
One of those arrested, Brent Bullock tells Scientific American, “I’m guilty of arrowhead collecting, as is two-thirds of this town.” It seems he:
[T]ried to sell a blanket fragment, fireboard, and stone hoe known as a Tchamahia. In a phone interview, he said that, like Lacy, he was also asked to identify the spot where the items were obtained and he subsequently signed a Letter of Provenance. He says agents later showed up at his house, placed his arrowheads and other artifacts in bags, and photographed them although they did not have permission to seize his or any other artifacts yet. “They ripped this place apart,” he says. “This town is all stirred up.”
Criminal penalties may help to ease the taking of objects from these sites, but they also create a great deal of anger and resentment. I think rather than just focusing on the arrests and the backlash, we should also pay attention to much of the education and outreach being conducted. Were all of these individuals really hardened criminals, bent on destroying archaeological heritage to sell antiquities? I’m sure some may have been, but the investigation seems to be failing spectacularly at convincing at least some local residents the importance of heritage preservation. What will happen when the attention of federal authorities goes elsewhere? Criminal penalties are important, and certainly justified in many cases. But I would like the attention being paid to this controversy to focus on some practical initiatives that can do a lot of good before looting and destruction take place. Take a few examples such as: volunteer programs, initiatives such as the Comb Ridge project, and continued recruitment of site stewards.
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Anthony Joseph Tulino, a postal worker from Florida, pleaded guilty to violating the Antiquities Act of 1906 yesterday. The gun has been missing since it was stolen from a display case in 1990. Roosevelt carried the 1892 revolver during the charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill in 1898. Roosevelt signed the 1906 Act into law, as a very early effort to protect the theft of relics from Federal property.
The FBI’s Art Theft Unit recovered the gun earlier this year, and it was returned to Roosevelt’s former home in Sagamaore Hill near Oyster Bay, New York. Tulino faces up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. The revolver has been valued at up to $500,000.
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