This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Utah, and indeed all Americans, got a priceless gift for the holidays this year when President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument in the southeastern corner of the state.
A decade ago I wrote the book on hiking in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, but I have a confession to make: My favorite backpacking destination is in the newly designated monument.
This area is a national treasure that has always had national-park-quality landscapes and world-class archeological sites. It contains astonishingly well-preserved ruins of ancient culture and spectacular canyon country. Frankly, it's difficult to believe that the Bears Ears area wasn't designated a national park more than a century ago.
There are those who have announced their intentions to repeal the new monument, trying to snatch its protections away from the land's rightful owners like some kind of political Grinch.
Opponents' claims that the new designation is a "land grab" ring false: The national monument designation does not change land ownership one bit. These lands have always belonged to all Americans not just Utahns or local residents and that's the way they'll stay, with liberty and access for all. As a national monument, these fragile desert lands will benefit from enhanced protection and more thoughtful planning and management. Nobody gets to grab them from anyone else.
This is not to say that all harmful land uses will cease: Many commercial and for-profit operations will continue in the new national monument, including some (like livestock grazing) that are harmful to the land. It's not a perfect solution, but it's an important step forward.
One of the unique aspects of the new national monument is that an intertribal advisory team will help guide the management of the new national monument. While co-management of lands and wildlife has been a successful venture in Canada for many years, this is the United States' first experiment with it, and I wish it the best of success.
Congress had its chance to craft a Bears Ears solution of its own. But the Public Lands Initiative's approach to the Bears Ears was a failure. Politicians stacked collaborative committees to guarantee pro-industry outcomes while excluding key constituencies. Then congressional politics hijacked the process, generating a toxic bill that departed from the recommendations of local groups, larded with oil industry giveaways and loopholes to allow the destruction of public lands.
The tribes and the environmental community formed an indivisible alliance to kill this bad bill, including (full disclosure) Western Watersheds Project and myself, then in the employ of WildEarth Guardians, playing supporting roles. Monument opponents proved themselves uniters, not dividers, bringing America together in opposition to the bloody carcass of a Bears Ears designation that the PLI bill would have brought back home to Utah.
Opponents of monument designation should now encourage their hearts to grow three sizes this day, embracing Utah's new monument as one of the state's valuable and irreplaceable economic assets. The Mighty Five national parks that the state of Utah so enthusiastically promotes just got an equally spectacular Number Six. Thank you, President Obama!
Congratulations to the tribes Diné (Navajo), Ute, Hopi, and Zuni who led the effort to get this monument designated, and to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Grand Canyon Trust, who led the environmental community in advocating for the Bears Ears designation.
I carried my oldest daughter down into Grand Gulch when my she was an infant, toting her down the switchbacks to camp in the quiet and cool of the canyon. When we return this spring, my daughter will be 17 years old. Now, thanks to the monument designation, I can look forward to sharing the unspoiled beauty of the Bears Ears country with my grandchildren in turn. Hopefully they won't have to carry me!
Erik Molvar is author of "Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks" and 15 other guidebooks to western national parks and wilderness areas spanning public lands from Alaska to Arizona. He also serves as the executive director of Western Watersheds Project.