Antiquities Act Archives - Page 7 of 10

  • August 26th, 2015

    Recently, newspaper stories and rumors have swirled around both a potential national monument in San Juan County, Utah, and Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Let me try and cut through the clutter to give you an idea where things currently stand.

    First, the monument. A historic coalition of Native-American Tribes and Pueblos have come together to call for a Bears Ears National Monument or National Conservation Area in Utah. This proposal, which we fully support, encompasses 1.9 million acres of dense cultural artifacts, stunning redrock canyons and plateaus, and high-elevation forests. The tribal coalition recently met at Bears Ears with officials from the departments of Interior and Agriculture to discuss their proposal.

    Second, the Public Lands Initiative. As you are likely aware, more than two years ago Rep. Rob Bishop announced his Public Lands Initiative as an effort to resolve public lands issues in Eastern Utah. We were impressed by Rep. Bishop’s willingness to undertake this difficult task and, in turn, we brought good faith and substantial resources to the table. We jumped into time-consuming discussions and dialogue with the Utah congressional delegation and the local counties.

    However, the dialogue and effort has not been uniform. San Juan County, for example, has opted for a process that excludes participation from anyone outside the county. Despite the fact that the Public Lands Initiative has been around for more than two years, only this month did the county commissioners finally put forward their proposal. As you might guess, for a county that has chosen to avoid “external” dialogue, the proposal is terrible.

    White Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    San Juan County leaves out deserving landscapes for protection (Hatch Point and White Canyon, above, to name a few of many), it asks for more land dedicated to energy development than it does for conservation, and it asks that the President’s authority to set aside national monuments be removed. In an act of pure chutzpah, it demands that Recapture Canyon be turned over to the county. Remember, current commissioner Phil Lyman was convicted of trespass and conspiracy for leading an illegal off-road vehicle ride down Recapture Canyon (which is closed to vehicle use in that part of the canyon).

    San Juan County ignored the requests of the tribal coalition that it propose meaningful protection for the Bears Ears proposal. Ironically, it even ignored the majority of its own county respondents who asked for protections in this area (opens in PDF). And no surprise, it ignored our proposal (see comparison below).


    This is where the national monument and PLI paths collide. In a move that would fail to surprise even the casual Utah political observer, the Utah governor and congressional delegation have recently opposed the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. This opposition, though, is based on the potential for the Public Lands Initiative to resolve issues in San Juan County. Utah Governor Gary Herbert said that the Public Lands Initiative provides for “negotiation, compromise, and debate.” Unfortunately, those three factors have been completely absent from the discussion in San Juan County.

    It is worth reiterating that San Juan County completely excluded participation from anyone outside its boundaries. Allowing only 0.005 percent of the nation’s population to determine the future of our public lands (and, in reality, ignoring most of its citizens’ input at the same time) will not lead to a good outcome.

    We remain willing to engage in “negotiation, compromise, and debate.” It is the only way in which public lands issues will be fully resolved in San Juan County. We are anxiously awaiting details from Utah’s congressional delegation and governor as to how that will happen in San Juan County. Absent that, it is our fear that the Public Lands Initiative may become little more than an excuse to forestall a new national monument in Utah.

  • October 15th, 2014

    Today, October 15th is National Fossil Day! We celebrate it with the acknowledgement that as a repository of scientific discovery, Greater Canyonlands holds a treasure trove of found and yet-to-be-found paleontological secrets.

    Nasutoceratops, Natural History Museum of Utah, photo by Lukas Panzann

    Nasutoceratops, Natural History Museum of Utah, photo by Lukas Panzann.

    The geologic formations that dominate southeastern Utah are known for harboring numerous dinosaur tracks and bones, ancient fossilized plants and marine invertebrate. But a lack of resources means that much work remains to find even more. Missing puzzle pieces that could be found in Greater Canyonlands may provide answers to outstanding scientific questions, such as:

    • How did ancient sea life evolve to life on land?
    • What did those first land-dwellers look like?
    • Did it happen in southern Utah?
    • For dinosaurs, what sizes, shapes and types left traces behind?

    Paleontological potential exists in Greater Canyonlands in two main time periods (although many periods are present): the late Jurassic, around 140-160 million years ago, and the Permian, around 250-300 million years ago.

    The Jurassic is known for meat-eating dinosaurs such as Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus, and large plant-eaters such as Apatosaurus and Diplodocus. Permian creatures of the late Paleozoic era are before the age of dinosaurs, and include Tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates) that hold keys to understanding how life emerged from the seas to land. The fossilized remains from both periods are largely still in the ground in Greater Canyonlands, awaiting discovery and research.

    Apatosaurus, Wikipedia, public domain.

    Apatosaurus, Wikipedia, public domain.

    Dinosaur tracks are also found in Greater Canyonlands, and the area around Moab has the highest density of known tracks in North America. We know this through casual observation and discovery by curious hikers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts who happen to stumble across ancient footprint impressions in the sandstone as they venture in the backcountry. While these amateur finds are sometimes reported, many times they are not.

    Interpreting important remains, luckily found through non-scientific discovery, is no way to conduct systematic research, but a dedicated program that emphasizes science, and one that attracts full-time paleontologists is a breakthrough waiting to happen.

    When we attain knowledge of how earth’s creatures from millions of years ago acted, walked, reproduced, ate and lived, we can learn know more about ourselves and the world we currently inhabit.

    Greater Canyonlands is an educational opportunity we have yet to take advantage of. Digging fossils is the dream of children everywhere. Nobody needs reminding that kids dig dinosaurs and fossils. We’ve all been there, and our kids are currently as fascinated with the remains of these ancient earth creatures as we were.

    University students are fascinated too. Jason Dillingham of Snow College in central Utah described his excitement about dinosaur digs in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument “I think it’s a big adventure for me, personally. I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s amazing.”

    Even adults get into the fun, as Jeanette Bonnell, an amateur scientist and dinosaur enthusiast with Utah Friends of Paleontology, recently said “The experience of finding your first fossil is indescribable.”

    After President Clinton signed the 1996 proclamation that set aside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, funding flowed to research. This funding is what made possible the finds of Nasutoceratops titusi or Big Nose horned dinosaurs, and others, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante.

    Similar scientific finds are possible in Greater Canyonlands, but we need the courage to place a higher importance on scientific research in the area, rather than let it be squandered for the short term profit of fossil fuels that would otherwise be emphasized.

    A proclamation for Greater Canyonlands that supports public land agencies to focus on research and science is critical to unleashing this potential – without it, we may never know what’s out there, because there isn’t the direction or the money to look.

  • September 23rd, 2014
    Secrets of the Past (cover image)

    Click image to view and download booklet.

    12,000-year-old encampments of ice age mammoth hunters.  Ghostly, life-sized figures staring down from towering sandstone cliffs.  Hundreds upon hundreds of stone ruins clinging to canyon walls. These are just some of the remarkable artifacts that make Greater Canyonlands a treasure trove of scientific and historical knowledge.

    Today, SUWA and the Greater Canyonlands Coalition have released a new publication, “Secrets of the Past in a Rugged Land.” 

Written by noted archaeologist Jerry Spangler, the publication takes the reader through the 12,000 years of human history embedded in Greater Canyonlands, offering highlights of the artifacts left behind by ancient inhabitants.

    Making the “archaeological case” for proclaiming Greater Canyonlands a national monument, the publication calls for presidential action to protect the area’s cultural treasures from harm.

    Click here to read the publication (opens in PDF) or watch a slideshow featuring highlights from the publication, below. 

Then, send President Obama an email asking him to protect Greater Canyonlands to preserve this irreplaceable outdoor museum.

    Hover over the image to view caption. Click on the right arrow to advance.

    For media inquiries, email Terri Martin.