Bears Ears National Monument designated by President Obama in Utah

Bears Ears National Monument designated by President Obama (Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior)

(KUTV) President Obama designated two national monuments in desert landscapes, including the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, Wednesday.

He also established the Bears Ears Commission to help inform the management of the monument. The other monument is in southern Nevada, called the Gold Butte National Monument. The two monuments will cover more than 1.66 million acres in the two states, according to the White House.

Utah seemed divided on the issue when earlier in December, groups gathered in Utah to protest and support the creation of a monument.

Obama said in a statement that the designations were done "to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes."

"We also have worked to ensure that tribes and local communities can continue to access and benefit from these lands for generations to come," Obama said.

Five tribes claim the Bears Ears area as their ancestral home including the Navajo, Ute and Zuni.

Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation said his Navajo ancestors successfully hid at a sacred place of prayer, shelter, and fortitude called the Bears Ears area of Utah. Part of his full statement read:

Today, President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation to protect this land as a national monument for future generations of Navajo people and for all Americans. Thanks to his action, this land will be finally given the legal reverence and protection it deserves.

The Bears Ears Coalition called for 1.9 million acres to be protected in Utah. According to the Department of Interior, the Utah land encompasses 1.35 million acres with 300,000 in the new Nevada monument. It also said both areas contain land scared to Native American tribes, important cultural sites and fragile wildlife habitat. The monument designations maintain currently authorized use of land that do not harm resources protected by the monument according to the release.

News of the Bears Ears National Monument brought a bevy of responses, including harsh criticism from some Utah elected officials.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-3rd District, said he was outraged by the decision in what he called an "unwanted midnight monument in Utah." He also said it was a slap in the face to the people of Utah.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the designation was an "astonishing and egregious abuse of executive power." Hatch said it showed that far-left special interest groups matter more than those who live on the land. He said for Utahns, particularly those in San Juan County, it was an affront of epic proportions and "an attack on an entire way of life."

Utah Rep. Mia Love, R-4th district, was also harsh in her criticism. She said in part:

Again behaving more like a dictator instead of a representative of people, he ignored Utah, which is united in opposition to this action.

She called on state officials to "undo what he has done and restore the blessings of freedom he wants so badly to remove from us in his final days."

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman said the county was mourning the designation and that Obama gave into pressure from extreme environmental groups. He called on Congress and President-elect Trump to rescind the monument designation.

Those in support include Utah Dine Bikeya, a group of Native tribes working to protect the area. That group urged Obama to take action, calling it America's most significant unprotected cultural landscape. Also in support was Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, Democratic Caucus Whip and member of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands as well as Utah Democrats.

Utah Sen. Jim Dabakis said the following in a release:

Thank you President Obama for protecting Bears Ears for untold future generations. Thank you Native Americans. This is your land and your victory!

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack applauded the decision.

“The rock art, ancient dwellings, and ceremonial sites concealed within these breathtaking landscapes help tell the story of people who have stewarded these lands for hundreds of generations,” Jewell said.

Utah's House of Representative issued a statement from its Bears Ears commission, accusing Obama of tyranny.

Like the unilateral tyranny exercised by the King of England against the American colonies two and a half centuries ago, our President has exercised an unconstitutional unilateral exercise of the Executive power to establish a monument greater in size than a number of the original thirteen states.

Utah Senate majority leadership also made a statement, also calling the designation a midnight monument, stating the president arrogantly abused executive authority.

Sen. Mike Lee made recorded a live video on Facebook.

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