President Obama Declares Bears Ears National Monument

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Bears Ears National Monument is finally a reality.

In a move welcomed by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and many other archaeological, historical, and tribal organizations, President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed the nation's newest national monument into existence.

"Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes," said President Obama in a statement on Wednesday. "Importantly, today I have also established a Bears Ears Commission to ensure that tribal expertise and traditional knowledge help inform the management of the Bears Ears National Monument and help us to best care for its remarkable national treasures."

The rugged 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears area of southeast Utah is one of the most significant cultural landscapes in the United States, with more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites representing some 12,000 years of human habitation including Ice Age hunting camps, cliff dwellings, prehistoric villages, and petroglyph and pictograph panels.

"It’s time to recognize the Bears Ears area for the national treasure that it is," said Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Trustee Bill Lipe, Ph.D., who has been doing archaeological research in the Bears Ears region for half a century. "Its many thousands of wonderfully preserved archaeological sites and rock art panels are set in a spectacular and awe-inspiring landscape. These traces of human history span thousands of years, and are part of the living cultures of the people whose ancestors they represent—the Pueblo, Ute, and Navajo tribes, and most recently, the Mormon pioneers who came to the area in the late 1800's. Others come from around the U.S. and the world to visit these sites in beautiful natural settings that promote contemplation of both the diversity and commonality of the human condition."

The Bears Ears region has played a major role in the development of American archaeology as a scientific field of inquiry since the 1890's, when "cowboy archaeologist" Richard Wetherill first used stratigraphic evidence to show cultural changes through time. According to Lipe, the region continues to be a vital center for archaeological research.

"Because of the abundance and good preservation of many of the sites, the Bears Ears area has great potential for future archaeological research as well as for productive collaborations between scientific researchers and Native American groups," said Lipe.

But despite Bears Ears' remote setting in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau, it was in constant peril from illegal artifact looting, inappropriate recreational use, and energy development. In November, Crow Canyon—along with other archaeological and historical preservation groups—signed a letter calling for the immediate establishment of Bears Ears National Monument by the White House under the Antiquities Act. The national monument designation will provide the funding and legal protections required to preserve the spectacular landscape and its archaeological sites for future generations.

The Antiquities Act was enacted by Congress in 1906 to provide protection for objects of historic and scientific interest, as well as to provide for their proper management.

"These irreplaceable treasures were threatened with destruction, but the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument ensures their protection for all Americans and for people from throughout the world in perpetuity," said Mark Varien, Ph.D., executive vice-president of the Research Institute at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

"We fully agree with friends that these lands need protection for their breath-taking beauty and the wealth of knowledge they give us as windows into the past," said Crow Canyon Trustee and former Cochiti Pueblo Governor Joseph Suina, Ph.D. "We, the Pueblo people, see this as the protection of out one our most fundamental rights: our freedom of religion. These sacred lands are still occupied by our ancestral spirits. They are our chapels and churches no matter where they are located. In prayer, we petition ancestors who gave us our culture and our languages to give us enlightenment, inspiration, and courage to continue with traditions in our journey here on Earth. We are indeed thankful for their protection."

“Crow Canyon, along with archaeologists and lovers of history, culture, and nature everywhere, applaud President Obama for using his authority to designate Bears Ears National Monument," said Crow Canyon President and CEO Deborah Gangloff, Ph.D. "The President’s action today has helped preserve an important part of our shared human legacy for all time.”

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