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Federal Protection For Utah National Monument Threatened


There are five Native American tribes whose homelands border the Bears Ears National Monument in Southeast Utah. Gavin Noyes is the executive director of Utah Dine Bikeyah, a nonprofit that's aligned and partnered with the coalition of those five tribes, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

GAVIN NOYES: Thank you for having me here.

SIEGEL: And what's your concern about modifying for the reduction of Bears Ears, especially since tribal lands fall outside of its borders?

NOYES: Bears Ears National Monument is protected now, and it's actually been 80 years in the making to realize its protection. And its ancestral lands of not only these five tribes but many other tribes who have built cliff dwellings here, who have recorded their histories, who visit the area to gather medicinal herbs, to hunt, to conduct ceremonies.

SIEGEL: Now, that was the case before it was declared a monument. What are the specific protections that came with monument status and that are at risk if they're withdrawn?

NOYES: It's had a lot of looting and grave robbing that's been happening at the - there's approximately a hundred thousand archaeological sites in the region. And so people have been taking these sacred objects out of the area. And it's also at increasing risk to uranium development, potash, oil and gas. And so there are a lot of threats to the area.

SIEGEL: But let's say for the brief period that it has been a national monument, has the incidence of grave robbing, for example, been significantly lower than it would have been the year before?

NOYES: You know, this is an ongoing problem, and really we haven't seen the benefits of protection fully come into fruition. You know, this is an area that needs more law enforcement, and we haven't seen the resources on the ground rise to the level that would give it the protection it deserves. But there's been a lot of progress made in these nine months, and we're looking forward to making a lot more so long as the monument stays protected.

SIEGEL: Mr. Noyes, I want to put to you what Utah State Representative Mike Noel, whose district includes Bears Ears, told my colleague today. He said there are existing federal regulations that protect this land regardless of the National Monument designation - not so?

NOYES: There are a variety of ways that lands can be protected, but they're not adequate. And even Representative Noel himself has worked with the state legislature and designated the entire region as an energy zone - about two-thirds of the national monument for the explicit purpose of developing its resources.

SIEGEL: Your organization pushed for the Bears Ears designation as a monument. What are the options available to you now as you see that state is threatened? Are there are grounds to go to court to try to stop this action? What might you do?

NOYES: Well, we don't believe there's grounds for presidential action to shrink a national monument, and we are prepared to challenge that in court if necessary. But there are a lot of ways to I think work with all sides and make sure that this monument stays intact and that the resources are protected and the tribes have a meaningful voice and it's moving forward. And so we're open to all of those options. But most importantly, we want to make sure that the resources there are protected.

SIEGEL: Mr. Noyes, thank you very much for talking with us today.

NOYES: Thank you for having me on today.

SIEGEL: Mr. Noyes is Executive Director of the nonprofit called Utah Dine Bikeyah. It is a partner of the five Native American tribes whose lands border the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.