Last week, President Barack Obama designated two monuments totaling more than a million acres in Nevada and Utah.
The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah contains land sacred to Native American tribes such as ancient cliff dwellings and well-preserved ancient ancestral Pueblo sites.
The Gold Butte National Monument near Las Vegas protects land with rock art, artifacts and rare fossils, as well as sagebrush steppe and Mojave Desert. Notably, this is not far from where rancher Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff with the government in 2014 as it attempted to round up cattle he had been grazing on Bureau of Land Management rangeland, doing so without permits or paying fees for more than 20 years.
Some fear a similar standoff may take place again as Obama’s recent moves to protect environmentally significant acreage have added fuel to the fire regarding public lands.
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Some are outraged and see these moves as a final land grab by the Obama administration in its final days.
Is it such an outrage?
It’s not outrageous the government is making an effort to protect sites of great significance to Native Americans from vandalism and looting.
It’s not outrageous these lands will be open for people to explore and appreciate in the future, rather than plundered by private landowners.
Opponents say the people want state control of public lands. Utah has led the charge among states who want federal lands to be turned over to the state.
Yet, national parks around the country saw a record number of visitors last year, including Glacier National Park and Utah’s Zion National Park, proving that “people” are not all a bunch of ticked- off, government-hating ranchers.
There is a reasonable debate to be had over how much executive power the president should exercise.
But painting Obama as power-hungry land grabber is only an attempt to distract from the benefits of the monuments and public lands across the U.S.
These diverse ecological and historical areas should be celebrated as a point of pride in this country. That means they should be protected for a very long time.