Bears Ears is Good Business

Well, it happened: President Obama created the Bear’s Ears National Monument! Most of us bleeding heart lib’ral extremist tree huggin’, granola-eatin’ wackos likely raised our too- the threats and cajoling from the likes of Utah Governor Gary Herbert, senators expensive locally-brewed craft ales in a toast to this needed move. Despite Hatch and Lee, and representatives Bishop and Chaffetz, Obama correctly saw through the haze of bullshit-slinging and did the right thing.
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Last year I wrote an article in these pages about bike touring in the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and we did another tour in the same region this past fall. We didn’t necessarily go there to analyze the economic and social impacts of national monument designation 20 years after President Clinton’s creation (we just wanted to do a nice, rugged, beautiful tour!) but given the push to create the same for the Bear’s Ears area it was impossible to ignore the effects on the GSENM given the Sky Did Fall (on GSENM) and The Sky Will Fall (on Bear’s Ears) cries from Utah’s politicos. Fundamentally, my point was thus: our extensive and scientific from-the-bike-saddle research indicated to us that monument designation has been an economic boon to that region due to dramatically-increased tourism, and the wails of economic ruin from the ranching and mining industries have been misleading at best and outright lies at worst.
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Most Utahns know that Moab had a run as a uranium boomtown in the 1950’s and 60’s. But the need for uranium evaporated, and the town almost went with it. But everyone knows that tourism is now The Industry in Moab. Yet the Utah politicians seem to conveniently ignore this fact and doggedly maintain their support for extractive industries, effectively saying: “Renewable power sources will NEVER replace coal!” and “Cattle grazing is an integral part of our economy!” Ultimately, the US government did not save the uranium industry – nor Alta’s silver mines, nor California’s gold mines, which ultimately fell victim to market forces at work. So why should we continue to subsidize and support the grazing and extractive industries?
Comb Wash and Bears Ears (1 of 1)

First, grazing. According to the BLM’s grazing website, the 2016 fee for grazing a cow and a calf on federal lands is $2.15 per month, or $25/year. The grazing fee started with a base value of $1.66 or $19.92 per cow/calf per year…..in 1966! I’m no economist, but I can use the Google well enough to determine that adjusted for inflation that $19.92 in 1966 would equal $150 today. The onerous jacking of the rates by $5 over a 50-year span comes out to an annual inflation rate of 0.5% (as opposed to a historic national annual average of 4%). Seems like a pretty good deal for cattle owners! Like the Grand Staircase NM, grazing allotments will be grandfathered into the Bears Ears NM at current market rates, and in the GSENM 96% of the original allotments that existed in 1996 still exist today. Additionally, the value of cattle in the desert is almost exclusively a function of the price of beef, which is market driven and subject to such far flung factors as the weather in the Midwest, people eating more/less meat, China currency valuation, etc.

Natural resource extraction: No one who puts gas in their car needs to be told that energy prices are low. The price of natural gas – which may or may not exist in the Bear’s Ears area; that has not been definitively confirmed – has not proven to be a good bet:

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Otherwise, I can say this:

The price for a million BTU’s in 1997 was in the $2 range, it spiked to over $10 in 2008 but is now back down around $3, which is just in line with inflation; nothing more. So another not so great investment, and anyone who has been to Vernal, UT, SW Wyoming, North Dakota, etc will tell you that their brief period of boomtime economies of just a few years ago have completely dried up. And roughnecking is not like a seasonal job (typically associated with tourist-based economies) those jobs don’t come back until the prices rise, if they ever do.

Coal is in the same boat: despite the future leader of the Trump Nation’s boasts, coal as we know it ain’t comin’ back. Here’s the price graph: (Paul – use this or the sentence following)

In 1999 a metric ton of coal was $30, and after spiking as high as $120 in 2009 it’s been on a steady decline to $60 today. And even if it did “come back”, automation has made the typical coalmine job somewhat obsolete (which is a good thing too; NPR had a depressing story recently about the depressingly-high and unaccounted rates of the deadly Black Lung Disease in coal country).

Since the Utah political contingent has been the most vociferous opponents of Bears Ears NM designation, here are some of their complaints:

Jason Chaffetz: “The midnight monument is a slap in the face to the people of Utah.” Actually, contrary to Clinton’s truly surprise announcement, this has been in the works for months, and in October Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel was in Utah for 5 days talking to members of all the leaders and constituencies about the implications of monument designation. Ironically, Chaffetz himself and fellow UT congressman Rob Bishop created their Public Lands Initiative bill last spring specifically to try to subvert national monument designation (it didn’t come to the fore in the most recent congress), so not only is it a stretch to insinuate that this was a desperate, last minute gesture, the Obama administration made it clear that if Reps Chaffetz and Bishop were unsuccessful in passing their bill the administration would take direct action.
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Orrin Hatch:
“With this astonishing and egregious abuse of executive power…” – As Orrin himself knows very well after being in office since nineteen hundred and seventy six, the Antiquities Act has been used over 100 times since Republican president Teddy Roosevelt signed it, including creation of many legacy parks in the southwest including Zion (Taft), Grand Canyon (Roosevelt), Bryce (Harding) and Arches (Hoover), all Republican presidents.

More from Orrin:
“The President’s proposal, like so many others, goes well beyond the original authorities of the Antiquities Act, which was intended to give presidents only limited power to designate special landmarks, such as a unique natural arch or the site of old cliff dwellings.”

According to Wikipedia: “The first use of the Act protected a large geographic feature – President Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower National Monument on September 24, 1906. President Roosevelt also used it to create the Grand Canyon National Monument – the first step in protecting that place of great historic and scientific interests.” Anyone who has read one bit of information about Teddy Roosevelt knows that he was all about preserving large swaths of land.
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Senator Mike Lee: “This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand. I will work tirelessly with Congress and the incoming Trump administration to honor the will of the people of Utah and undo this designation.” According to Wiki: “The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld presidential proclamations under the Antiquities Act, ruling each time that the Act gives the president nearly-unfettered discretion as to the nature of the object to be protected and the size of the area reserve.”

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, in an interview with Ari Shapiro on NPR, said that one of the county commissioners – by congressional fiat– must be a Native, and that Native doesn’t support monument designation, therefore the Native population doesn’t support it. However, David Filfred, who is the Navajo Nation Council Delegate representing several tribal Chapters in Utah was quoted on the day of the proclamation: “We are grateful for President Obama’s brave action today. For the first time in history, a president has used the Antiquities Act to honor the request of Tribal Nations to protect our sacred sites. In doing so, he has given the opportunity for all Americans to come together and heal.” To be honest, my sum total experience with the SW Native population has been gleaned from a few Tony Hillerman novels, but most news accounts I’ve read indicate that there were a few standout individuals who opposed the monument designation, but entire tribes supported it, since indeed the entire intent of the original act is indeed to “preserve antiquities” (though it’s understandable if the Native population is suspicious of the integrity of big federal agreements).
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Another Herbertism: “This decision ignores the will of the majority of Utahns.” Perhaps the majority of Utahns Gary talks to, but actually, according to the Dan Jones poll done in the fall: “Utahns are divided on whether President-elect Trump should undo the monument designation when he takes office. 46% say he should not reverse Bears Ears, while another 40% say he should. 14% are undecided.” And when Obama’s name it taken out of the question, even more favor monument designation.
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Seeing so much blind support from our politicians for good ol’ boy ranchers and executives in the extractive energy businesses when places like Moab, Kanab, and Escalante are clearly prospering from the burgeoning tourist industry associated with national monument/park designation is frustrating at best. But for those who are able to read statistics, visit the communities affected, and see for themselves the progress associated with national monument designation, it is clear that The Bears Ears designation will result in treasured lands and actual antiquities being protected and the associated communities will thrive as well.

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