This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
What do the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, Mojave Trail, Stonewall, Fort Monroe and Browns Canyon all have in common? They were all designated as national monuments by President Barack Obama.
Rep. Rob Bishop recently said that President-Elect Donald Trump should rescind all of the national monuments Obama established or expanded during his tenure. Whether or not such action would be legal, it is clear from the passionate discussions that Utahns are having about the anticipated Bears Ears National Monument and Bishop's proposed Public Land Initiative (PLI), the people of Utah want some kind of permanent protection for this spectacular and special land of southeast Utah.
Everyone knows PLI is not a serious proposal. Plans for PLI were announced in April 2013 with the acknowledgment from Bishop that "there's a window of opportunity now, which if we were to wait too much longer would probably get closed." PLI has had three years to come together, which it has not. Now, with only a few grains of sand left in the hourglass before Congress adjourns, PLI's time has run out and Obama's time to act has arrived.
The authority exercised by both Republican and Democratic presidents using the Antiquities Act demonstrates the wisdom of preserving the United States' most significant history, cultural resources and natural heritage. And, as someone who has the pleasure of living in Utah, one of this country's most beautiful states, my family has the benefit of quick access to these public treasures.
This includes Timpanogos Cave, designated by Warren Harding, Natural Bridges, Cedar Breaks and Capitol Reef by Theodore Roosevelt, or President Taft coming through for us on Rainbow Bridge. The majority of the most important cultural and recreational sites in the United States have been created using the Antiquities Act. It provided the first protections for Zions, Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef. Without this authority, Utah's "Mighty 5" would likely be short four national parks.
If we rely on Congress to help us, we will once again be disappointed by ideologues and partisan gridlock, and our families will be denied the best of American's unique and diverse cultural heritage and natural landscapes forever. For that reason, we must look beyond the political squabbling in Washington over authority and control, and encourage Obama to take action now.
Monument designation is about respect, preservation, sharing and collaborative use not about restrictions. Just reading the short list above of a few of Utah's protected places illustrates how we have successfully safeguarded and used our public lands. Our public lands are not for growing the wealth of a few at the expense of many. These special places belong to the people; they are not expendable resources for corporations.
Those of us who have witnessed the panoramic views of the Bears Ears, explored the antiquities in Grand Gulch or Mule Canyon, viewed the Mormon pioneer sites, explored the Abajo Mountains or driven alongside Comb Ridge know that a failure to designate Bears Ears as a national monument will result in not only a loss to Native Americans who derive spiritual and material sustenance from this land, but will be a loss to all residents of Utah and the owners of the land, the citizens of the United States.
Joseph E. Hatch is a Salt Lake City attorney and a former Salt Lake County Council chairman.