Tell President Obama: “Bears Ears” region of Utah needs protection from drilling, mining and vandalism

A stretch of starkly beautiful wildlands in Southeast Utah is at risk due to energy development, looting and vandalism, but with your help, this place could soon be permanently protected as a national monument.

Recently, a partnership of five sovereign Native American nations petitioned President Barack Obama to use the Antiquities Act to proclaim a region known as Bears Ears as a national monument. This would help stop looting, grave robbing, irresponsible off-road vehicle use, energy development and other destructive activities on these sacred lands, and ensure that we preserve this wild landscape for the benefit of all Americans.


Act now: Ensure President Obama protects this region and the tribes’ place in it

Nestled immediately to the south and east of Canyonlands National Park, the region known as “Bears Ears”—named for two sandstone-fringed buttes jutting about 2,000 feet up from the mesa—covers nearly 2 million acres of stunning (mostly) desert dotted with yucca, sagebrush  and red-tinged sandstone carved into dramatic mesas, canyons and arches.

Photo: The Bears Ears region's namesake buttes. Credit: Mason Cummings.

Wildlife that calls the area home includes pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, black bears and peregrine falcons.

Hiking, camping, rock-climbing and backpacking are staple recreation activities in Bears Ears, which is bordered by the San Juan River along the southern edge. The natural attractions of the region are evident even when the sun goes down, as the relatively remote, wide-open landscape means night skies dark enough to fully showcase the stars overhead.

Click for interactive map via Protect Bears Ears Coalition

Bears Ears holds a wealth of Native American culture

The value of Bears Ears isn’t only in its natural wonders. In fact, the movement to protect it has been spearheaded by a coalition of tribes concerned about their cultural heritage.

By some estimates, the region contains more than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, and some modern tribes in the American southwest trace their heritage back to the area, including the Navajo and Hopi.

Photo: Tim D. Peterson.

In fact, The Navajo Nation and White Mesa Ute Reservation immediately abut Bears Ears and tribal members still use the land as their people have for generations. Bears Ears was also the birthplace of Manuelito, a 19th century Navajo leader who rallied popular opposition to American and Mexican incursion into tribal homeland.

Recently, the Native tribes have led the charge to permanently protect Bears Ears—notably, a coalition of 25 tribes with ties to the region. In October 2015, tribal representatives petitioned President Obama to protect Bears Ears as a national monument. This was thought to be the first time Native tribes had ever joined forces to ask a president to designate a national monument.

Report: Native American cultural value of Bears Ears argues for its protection

As noted by a spokesman of the Hopi Nation, protecting Bears Ears would be an especially apt use of the Antiquities Act. That law originally grew out of a movement to preserve deteriorating archaeological resources, some of which had become targets of vandalism. Numerous Native American sites have since been protected under the Antiquities Act, including New Mexico’s Aztec Ruins National Monument, designated in 1923, and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, designated in 2000.

The Antiquities Act has been used on a bipartisan basis by almost every president, serving as an important contingency plan for when Congress won’t act swiftly to protect public lands or historic landmarks.

Indeed, the tribal coalition sought out presidential intervention only after it had lobbied for a legislative monument designation and felt excluded from Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative.

A precious and vulnerable wildland

Unfortunately, Bears Ears is as susceptible to human-caused damage as it is spectacular. Among the threats facing this ancient wildland are oil and gas drilling, mining and reckless off-road vehicle use. National monument status would help ensure the area is protected.

Credit: Tim D. Peterson.

Additionally, monument designation would allow Bears Ears to be prioritized for more funding for staff, management and law enforcement. Graffiti and looting have been major problems—including, shockingly, the destruction of a traditional 19th century Navajo structure to use for firewood—with many incidents unreported until well after the fact

Now, allying with everyone from rock-climbers to conservation groups like The Wilderness Society, tribes are working toward permanent status that will ensure Bears Ears is preserved for future generations. This wildland is far too precious to leave unprotected.

Ask President Obama to protect a national monument in Bears Ears

Check out our photos of some of the amazing sights of Bears Ears:

Credit: Tim D. Peterson.

Naturally, the Bears Ears Buttes are the signature attraction of the Bears Ears region. So named because they are said to resemble the top of a bear's head poking over the horizon, these huge formations are prominent in various tribal culture and lore.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Considered a somewhat overlooked treasure due to competition from fellow Utah wildlands like Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Cedar Mesa is an expansive plateau dotted with canyons and sandstone pinnacles.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Cedar Mesa is also known for its ancient ruins, just one example of the precious cultural resources in the Bears Ears regin. 

Credit: Jonathan Fox, flickr.

Indian Creek is a sandstone canyon corridor that leads from the northern end of Bears Ears to Canyonlands National Park. It is a popular rock-climbing spot (though climbers are obviously prohibited from disturbing the ancient Puebloan and Ute petroglyphs found in the area).

Credit: Jacob W. Frank (NPS).

Natural Bridges National Monument is one of Bears Ears’ most famous stretches of land. It features the second largest natural bridge in the world, carved from the white Permian sandstone of the Cedar Mesa Formation that gives White Canyon its name. There are three bridges in the park—Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu—all with Hopi names.

Credit: Pierce Martin, flickr.

In the southwest reaches of Bears Ears, rocky red canyons dominate the landscape, including Knowles Canyon.

Credit: Tim D. Peterson.

The evocatively named Newspaper Rock is a historic site for good reason. This large slab of sandstone is covered with recorded history, in the form of etched petroglyphs thought to date back about 1,500 years.

Credit: John Buie, flickr.

Manti-La Sal National Forest covers a large portion of Bears Ears. In addition to the geological wonders and archaeological sites that characterize much of the area, the forest contains Gambel oak, aspen, fur and pine woodland including habitat for elk, black bear and more.

Credit: Brian Murdock via

Within Manti-La Sal National Forest, the existing Dark Canyon Wilderness totals some 46,000 acres of craggy land that ranges from sandstone arches to old-growth forest.

Credit: Tim D. Peterson/LightHawk.

The Comb Ridge is a 120-mile-long sandstone fold running through the southwest section of Bears Ears. It was formed by tectonic shifts below the earth’s surface tens of millions of years ago and is a popular hiking challenge.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Looking at ancient Puebloan rock art near Comb Ridge.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Rock formation near White Canyon. White Canyon, in the western part of the Bears Ears region, is an unusually rugged and untouched example of the region’s beauty.

Credit: Mason Cummings.

One of Bears Ears most famous attractions is the grandly named Valley of the Gods, to the south of Cedar Mesa. This backcountry stretch is similar to the nearby (much larger) Monument Valley, and both are known for red sandstone buttes, pinnacles and cliffs.

Credit: Mason Cummings.

Valley of the Gods’ scenery is so unusual and arresting that it has been used as a science-fiction backdrop for television. Unsurprisingly, it is a major destination for photographers.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Goosenecks State Park, south of Valley of the Gods at Bears Ears’ southern edge, is renowned for its stunning view of the San Juan River winding through the desert below.

Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).

Immediately to the northwest of Goosenecks State Park is Muley Point, another great spot from which to survey the stunning scenery. Moki Dugway, a famed looping dirt road, leads to the overlook.

Credit: Alan Schmierer, flickr.

The land near Nokai Dome, a huge sandstone hump near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in the southwest of Bears Ears, is sparsely vegetated yet visually incredible, a colorful expanse of rolling earth.

Credit: Jacob W. Frank (NPS), flickr.

With light pollution obscuring stars for many Americans, a night sky clear enough to see the Milky Way is precious indeed, and Bears Ears fits that bill—it remains stunning when the sun goes down. Areas within the Bears Ears have been specially recognized for their dark-sky vistas.