a cotton candy sunset over valley of the gods in bears ears national monument

a cotton candy sunset over valley of the gods in bears ears national monument

opportunity cost

an exploration of potential lost landscapes as a result of the shrinking of bears ears national monument


“there are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people.  they should be preserved for all time for the people of the nation and the world.” – arthur carhart, an originator of the us wilderness concept


on december 28, 2016, president barack obama declared 1,351,849 acres of land rich with 100,000 cultural sites in southeast utah to be bears ears national monument.  the designation stretched from moab, utah to the north down to mexican hat, utah and bluff, utah on the southern border.  the narrow strip on the northern end of the designation is bordered on the west by canyonlands national park.  as canyonlands national park ends, the monument designation expands westward, including the dark canyon wilderness, cedar mesa and the bears ears buttes which give the monument its name.  the original designation came about as a collaboration between federal politicians, utah politicians and the bears ears inter-tribal coalition – a consortium of tribal leaders of the hopi tribe, navajo nation, ute mountain ute tribe, pueblo of zuni, and ute indian tribe – all who have ancestral ties to the region. 

on december 4, 2017 president donald trump reduced the designation by 85% to two smaller areas, comprising a total of 201,876 acres.  these two smaller monuments – the shash jaa and indian creek national monuments – have boundaries defined by president trump based on recommendations from utah senator orrin hatch and no input from the native americans who helped define the original boundaries.  the indian creek unit contains a small strip of land at the southeast corner of canyonlands national park, (parts of the northern portion of the original designation) while the shash jaa unit is comprised primarily of a small strip of land at the southern border of the original designation containing the butler wash and mule canyon locations.  the name shash jaa, as given by politicians, is controversial.  the term means “bears ears” in navajo but is reserved for use by the diné. (“the people” of the navajo nation)  as such, it is viewed as divisive by the other tribes with ties to the area.

in reducing the original monument’s designation, the government has planned to offer an old-west, gold rush-style land grab for civilians and corporations to lease the land – a “claim” is made by pounding stakes into the four corners of your claim - up to twenty acres per claim, and a $212 processing fee.  after making a claim and paying the processing fee, an annual maintenance fee of $150 is required.

there are over 300 uranium mining claims located within the original monument boundaries – the vast majority of those claims are located outside the reduced boundaries.  energy fuels, a canadian uranium producer, owns many of those claims.  energy fuels, and many other uranium mining corporations as well as gas and oil drilling corporations lobbied hard for the reduction so that the land would be opened up to mining and drilling.

there are currently three separate federal lawsuits challenging the reduction’s legality: by the five native american tribes, several conservation groups and patagonia.  the results of these lawsuits are still not resolved. 

these are some of the landscapes, viewpoints and vistas of our land that may be lost forever.

to view the images and purchase prints or donate to the bears ears coalition, (note: all profits from bears ears print sales will be donated to the bears ears coalition for all purchases made) please follow this link: bears ears national monument images. many of these images will not be offered for purchase after december 31, 2019.