Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands

PDF version A US government plan to slash protections for one of North America’s richest and best-preserved archaeological landscapes has prompted a wave of concern among researchers. On 4 December, US President Donald Trump announced that he had cut the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah from 547,000 hectares to 82,000. That removes protections for thousands of Native American cultural sites, some as many as 13,000 years old. The president’s action leaves the national monument, created last year by h

Source: Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands

6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments – Center for American Progress

6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments By Jenny Rowland and Kate Kelly Posted on December 5, 2017, 1:20 pm President Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Salt Lake City, December 4, 2017. AP/Rick BowmerPresident Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a procla

Source: 6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments – Center for American Progress

AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s curious case for shrinking monuments

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump made a curious case for stripping federal protections from vast stretches of two of America’s national monument lands. For one, he said his decision will give Native Americans back their “rightful voice over the sacred land.” But they already have specified rights on the land, thanks to the national monument designation under the Antiquities Act, and fear losing those rights under his decision. That’s why they’re fighting his action in court.

Source: AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s curious case for shrinking monuments

Recent Events…

It wasn’t a government “land grab.” It wasn’t Washington DC waltzing in and taking the land, forcing people from their homes.  The lands in question, Bears Ears National Monument (Ceder Mesa and the surrounding area) and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument were already Federal Land. No state land was taken/stolen.  In the case of the GSENM, several SITLA (school trust lands owned by the state) parcels were traded to the Federal Government, by the State of Utah, in exchange for large blocks of valuable, resource-rich land outside the monument boundaries.  Again, NOTHING was stolen/taken/absconded with.

The establishment of the Monuments was done with the intention to protect and preserve areas possessing unique natural, and cultural qualities. What the monument status did was add layers of protection to sensitive, irreplaceable paleontological, and archaeological sites – fossil beds, dinosaur tracks, rock art, prehistoric burials, villages, ceremonial features and sacred landscapes.  Monument status would help in preserving pristine wildlife habitat, riparian areas, delicate desert vegetation systems and unbroken, spectacular viewscapes – if managed/funded adequately enough to do so.

I’ve spent years working and recreating in these places – hiking, camping, climbing, wandering, conducting archaeological survey and site documentation. I spent a season working as a BLM backcountry ranger at Kane Gulch.  I’ve seen what unrestricted development, unrestricted grazing, mining, drilling, ORV traffic and, yes, even unrestricted recreation (mountain biking, horseback riding, climbing route development, even foot travel) can do to these surprisingly delicate places.  They all leave a lasting footprint, some bigger than others.

Yes, National Monument status means more visitors. Kane Gulch Ranger Station, now in the middle of Bears Ears National Monument, saw a HUGE increase in visitors this year – over 13k just this spring alone.  The rangers speculate this was due not only to the new Monument designation but to the controversy brought on by Zinke’s recent visit and the rumors of eliminating or significantly downsizing the Monument.  They actually had visitors express a need to see it “before it was gone.”  Cedar Mesa had been seeing an increase in visitors every year beginning in 2006 when the BLM opened a new, brick and mortar visitor center/ranger station at the Kane Gulch trailhead. Prior to that, the “Ranger Station” consisted of an old, 20′ camp trailer.  The refrigerator served as the filing cabinet for backcountry permits and extra maps, and the oven housed the backstock of stickers and flyers.  Now, with unlimited virtual access to places like Moon House, Perfect Kiva and The Procession Panel, more and more people are physically seeking out these locations to post selfies and, well, I digress…

What is potentially at stake with Trump’s recent “downsizing/rescinding” of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments isn’t just the shrinking of Monument boundaries.  This action could open up archaeologically and paleontologically rich/sensitive areas to surface mining, oil and gas drilling, unrestricted vehicle impacts, real estate development, increased looting/pothunting.  The “new” Bears Ears National Monument would NOT include Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch or Fish & Owl Canyons.  Originally they were protected from development by their Primitive Area or Wilderness Study Area status. What their status would be after Trump’s “downsizing” is uncertain.  These places were included in the 2016 Monument boundary because of their sacredness to several Native American tribes. They were included for protection because of the irreplaceable archaeological treasures found therein. They were included to protect pristine wildlife habitat and riparian areas, ie. their “wilderness quality.”  That will all be in question, if Trump has his way.

I find hope in the fact that what Trump is trying to do is illegal. There are several organizations planning to file or have filed lawsuits to stop this, including a coalition of the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Hopi, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes, suing on behalf of the Bears Ears, and the Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of the Grand Staircase-Escalante.   Yvon Chouinard, owner of gear/apparel company Patagonia is planning a lawsuit on behalf of Bears Ears.

Right now, I’m in “wait and see” mode.  I’m hoping that someone with the power to do so will say that rescinding the Monuments is, indeed, illegal and can’t be done. Or, barring that, the lawsuits will tie the action up for years, until a new, stable administration that truly values our national heritage and Public Lands takes over.

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird…” Theodore Roosevelt.

Trump aims attack at national monuments: 20 at risk |

Trump aims attack at national monuments: 20 at risk President Trump is ordering a “review” of about half of all national monuments designated since the beginning of 1996, a sweeping action that is intended to shrink boundaries and reduce protections. The executive order will put more than 20 national monuments in the crosshairs, ranging from rare wildlife habitat to Native American archaeological ruins, stretching from Maine to California to Pacific islands. Photo: California Coastal National Monument. C

Source: Trump aims attack at national monuments: 20 at risk |

Trump To Sign Executive Order That Could Shrink National Monuments : NPR

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Wednesday that could end up shrinking — or even nullifying — some large federal national monuments on protected public lands, as established since the Clinton administration.The move is largely seen as a response by the new administration to two controversial, sweeping national monument designations made late in the Obama administration: the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah considered sacred to Native American tribes and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada near the Bundy Ranch, site of the 2014 armed standoff over cattle grazing on public land.

Source: Trump To Sign Executive Order That Could Shrink National Monuments : NPR

Frack and ruin: Archaeologists fear drilling could obliterate Chaco connections – : Art

There is nothing to see but the cracked yellow earth, wiry bunch grass, and saltbush. Nothing, that is, until a practiced eye begins spotting a scattering of tiny black and red potsherds. Their presence here, 16 miles north of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, along with their linear arrangement, as if they were used to mark a road, are part of a chain of clues that have been leading archaeologists farther and farther away from Chaco in their efforts to explain what Chaco was.

Source: Frack and ruin: Archaeologists fear drilling could obliterate Chaco connections – : Art

Mesa Verde National Park

Managed by the National Park Service, Mesa Verde is situated on top of Chapin Mesa in southwest Colorado, just thirty miles from Cortez on Hwy 160. The road to the park, and all interior roads open to the public, are paved.

What You Can See

There are over 4,000 known archeological sites in Mesa Verde National Park, ranging from Basketmaker II mesa top farm/village sites to Pueblo III cliff dwellings. Only a small percentage of the sites in the park have been excavated. Several of the spectacular cliff dwellings are accessible to the public via guided ranger tours. Stop by the visitors center on the way into the park to pick up a map and reserve a place on a tour. There are also several self-guided trails leading visitors to villages, pithouses and irrigation features.

Tips for Your Visit

Plan for two days to see both sides of the park. There are two main “loops” with plenty to see and do. There is a camp ground in the park, as well as a lodge and assorted dining facilities. If you plan to stay in the lodge or campground, make reservations early. They fill up quickly. There is a fee to enter the park, this varies depending on when you plan to visit. The pass is good for 7 days.

Grand Gulch In Bears Ears National Monument

Grand Gulch, part of the newly established Bears Ears National Monument, is a remote canyon system located south and west of Blanding, UT. Numerous sites dating from the Archaic period to PIII can be found here, as well as some of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the Southwest.

Backpacking in Lower Grand Gulch
Getting There

Located on State Route 261, the Kane Gulch Ranger Station is 4 miles south of US Hwy 95 at the upper entry point into Grand Gulch, visitors to the area need to stop by here and register with the ranger and pay the day use fee, or overnight fee if you are backpacking in the canyon. As the name implies, this is a non-developed, primitive recreation area. Access into the canyon is by foot travel, although horse/pack animal access is allowed in certain portions of the canyon. The trails in and out of the canyon can range from steep, slightly technical scrambles to long, flat sand washes with everything in between.

What You Can See

Besides the incredible scenery of the canyon itself, several archaeological sites including Jail House Ruin, Perfect Kiva and Junction Ruin, as well as dozens of granaries and rock art too numerous to count are all located in Grand Gulch, many within day-hiking range from the BLM Ranger station at Kane Gulch.

Surrounding Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa offers beautiful hiking, primitive car camping (in established sites) and opportunities to explore numerous mesa top sites.

Tips for Your Visit
Take only pictures

Transportation on Cedar Mesa can be an adventure in itself. The roads leading off of State route 261 consist of unimproved dirt roads, most requiring at least an all-wheel drive vehicle. Low clearance, 2-wheel drive cars may not get you where you want to go here. Keep in mind that the character of any one of the Cedar Mesa roads can change dramatically after one rain storm. Washouts, sandy areas and arroyo cutting are all part of the adventure.

Slick rock campsites – Leave No Trace

The ranger station has a good collection of books and maps for sale, focusing on the Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa area. The rangers will also have information regarding which archaeological sites are open and accessible to the public. In addition, they have current water conditions and weather forecasts. Both are very important for anybody planning on venturing below the canyon rims. For more information on visiting archaeologically sensitive areas, check this link out.


Exploring Archaeological Sites in the Desert Southwest

Who Passed This Way?  Any archaeological site needs to be treated with care. They are fragile and irreplaceable. They represent our nation’s past, our heritage. And, for many, are the main reason to travel to the Four Corners region. Many of the sites in the southwest are maintained by the National Park Service (NPS). Others are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or US Forest Service. The rules for visiting archaeological sites located on public lands are the same: take as many pictures as you want; do not take any artifacts or relics from public land; do not make rubbings of rock art or make any marks of any kind on a rock art panel; if a site is barricaded, view it from outside the barricade; if there are signs asking you to Keep Out, respect the sign; when visiting habitation sites, do not walk on the midden.

Common sense also goes a long way when visiting an archaeological site. If the ledge holding that granary looks like it could come down at any second, it probably will – just stay on the ground and enjoy the view from there. You don’t have to climb/jump down into the kiva to get a feel for it’s history. Do not make little “Museum Rocks” at a site. Piling up the pottery, flakes, corn cobs, etc. doesn’t help anybody. By collecting and piling artifacts, you take materials out of their context, expose them to the elements more than they would be if left where they are and, very likely, you had to trample across the midden to get them in the first place. As you explore a site, the sense of discovery and exploration is going to be much better if you can find the artifacts hidden about on your own, not bunched together on a slab, where they wouldn’t normally be. And, yes, it will matter if you take just one potsherd. If every visitor to a site takes just one potsherd or flake or corn cob, there will be none of those materials left for others to see, or for archaeologists to use in interpreting the site. Besides, taking artifacts from public lands – even that “arrowhead” you found on a hike – is violation of Federal Law (Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979).

Domestic dogs and archaeological sites generally don’t mix. In the heat of the summer, and often just because they can’t help it, dogs will dig down into the soil to make a nice, cool spot to lay down. This can be disastrous inside an alcove or rock shelter site, not to mention the impact Fido has when he lifts his leg on a granary wall or room-block corner.  I have witnessed both. If you bring your dog, secure him to a tree or rock in a nice shady spot, with a bowl of water, outside of the archaeological site.

Any water-source you encounter in the desert is a matter of life or death to the birds and animals living within miles of it. Whether it’s a spring, pothole full of water or running stream, please treat it with care. Don’t bathe in it, wash dishes in it, answer the call of nature, cook or camp within 200 feet of it. And, please, under no circumstances allow your pets or stock animals to walk/play in it. Secure your llama, horse or dog, away from the pool or spring, and bring them a bowl of water. Human and domestic animal waste will ward off wildlife from, what may possibly be, the only water source within miles, as will sun-block, bug repellent, soap or other detergents – even the “bio-degradable” ones.

One last note: if you plan to explore archaeological sites in the Four Corners area, observe where you put your feet. Stay on slick rock or established trails. The crusty, black soil you will see there is alive. Composed of living organisms, “cryptobiotic soil” is the thing that keeps this region from blowing/eroding away. It fixes atmospheric nitrogen, helps retain moisture for the plants around it and stabilizes the soil/sand. One crushing boot print or tire track will take years to re-establish.

Why so much information regarding what you should not do? Simply put, the desert, and all that live in it, is incredibly fragile. The rules are there to protect it. If a few careless visitors violate the rules, or cause unnecessary damage, stricter guidelines will be made and enforced or, even worse, areas will be closed to access entirely. Take the approach that you are a guest in someone else’s house. You wouldn’t steal, leave a mess or be disrespectful. Look at all that you get to see and do during your visit.