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Protecting Public Lands and our Diverse National Heritage

Protecting Public Lands and our Diverse National Heritage

Bears Ears National Monument

Continuing with the trend of rolling back environmental protections and regulations, President Trump signed a controversial executive order that threatens public lands designations, conservation efforts and insults the cultural and historical diversity of the United States. The order also undermines the Antiquities Act, a law passed in 1906 that gives presidents the power to designate public lands. Signed on April 26, 2017, this executive order will review any monument designated between September 1996 and 2016. This puts thousands of miles of land and water under review, as well as important cultural and historical sites.

President Trump’s executive order has sparked a fierce debate. The center of this debate is the Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.3-million-acre national monument in southeastern Utah. Bears Ears was designated by President Obama in late 2016, just weeks before leaving office. Bears Ears holds great significance to several Native American tribes and its designation was seen as a peace offering to the tribes whose holy sites, ancient burial grounds, and ancestral history lies on Bears Ears. Bears Ears is also the first of 25 national monuments included in the executive order to begin the review process. The Department of the Interior held an initial abbreviated public comment period from May 11 to May 26, 2017. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke issued an interim report on June 10. The Secretary proposed shrinking the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument. While Secretary Zinke extended the public comment period to July 10, his report puts all other monuments at risk and chips away at the Antiquities Act.

Designating public lands preserves unique and spectacular swaths of our earth for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. It is also a manifestation of our obligation to be responsible stewards of the earth. “To till and to tend,” we are commanded (Genesis 2:15).

But beyond this, we must protect public lands, particularly those hold cultural and historical significance, because of the narratives and communities they represent. Preserving public lands is one of the ways we honor the stories of diverse cultures and traditions in the United States. Our national monuments, like the recently designated Civil Rights Monuments and Bears Ears, should reflect the beautiful diversity of our communities. 

The Department of Interior will continue to collect public comments on monuments being reviewed, including Bears Ears, under the executive order. Comments can be submitted here until July 10. 

Lizzie Stein is a leadership development associate at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she previously served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. In her current role, she leads fellowships for alumni of RAC programs and brings leadership skills training to the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and other programs. Lizzie also staffs the Urgency of Now: Transgender Rights Campaign. A graduate of Occidential College, she is a member of Temple Kol Ami in Phoenix, AZ, her hometown.

Lizzie Stein

Published: 6/19/2017