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Washington • Twenty years ago, Terry Tempest Williams collaborated with several writers to push for protection of Utah's red rock country, publishing a book called "Testimony" that would be delivered to members of Congress in an effort to convince them of the need to act.
This week, conservationists revived the idea in hopes of securing protection for the Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah.
"Red Rock Testimony," a small tome with a cover carved to look like the iconic rounds that gave the Bears Ears area its name, includes short stories, poetry and testimonials on why the 1.9 million acres should be set aside. The book, like its older version, will be sent to members of Congress and has already been delivered to the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal offices.
But will it make a difference?
"We don't expect the most grumpy and vociferous members of Congress who are determined to take back the land from those of us who own the land from even reading this book to read these pieces of writing," said Stephen Trimble, an associate instructor at the University of Utah at a National Press Club news conference Thursday. "But we'll send it out there on its journey."
Trimble said the same question was asked in 1996 about the original book, but the point may not be to rally those opponents to preservation as it is to bolster those who support it.
"We do not expect that our beautiful book will convince [Sen.] Orrin Hatch and [Rep.] Rob Bishop to do anything different from what they already have planned to do," added Kirsten Allen of Torrey House Press, which published the book. "However, what we can do is provide support for the supporters of protecting southern Utah. What we can do is provide a little cover for those in the administration who want this national monument to go forward."
Those who want to preserve Bears Ears are calling on President Barack Obama to use his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to name it a national monument, circumventing Congress, which has failed to act on protecting the region.
Bishop, working with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, has been promising to unveil legislation soon that would offer some protections for the area, though only a draft has so far been circulated. That effort, called the Public Lands Initiative, was touted as a cooperative effort between environmentalists, developers, local, state and federal officials, though several green groups and tribal leaders have said they no longer believe they will be represented in the final product.
The new book goes further.
"The PLI was a ruse," writes Charles Wilkinson, a law professor at the University of Colorado who drafted the language then-President Bill Clinton used to name the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996. "Although they never said it, the Utah [federal] delegation clearly believed that intensive resource development, especially mining, always trumps land protection. Tribal leaders knew they were not being truly listened to or respected."