Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands
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 his predecessor, Barack Obama, in legal limbo. Although presidents have clear authority to create monuments, many legal scholars argue that only the US Congress can change the areas’ boundaries. Native American tribes and environmental groups have already said that they will sue the government over its attempt to reshape Bears Ears.
The decision to remove protections from the monument comes at a time when people are increasingly encroaching on its cultural treasures. Looting of valuable objects such as ancient pottery has long plagued the Bears Ears area. And as tourism has ballooned in recent years, so have inadvertent damage to sensitive walls and dwellings made of stone and mud, and the disappearance of potsherds and other artefacts.