An ugly tower threatens Bears Ears National Monument

By Mark Maryboy

My Navajo homeland is the great expanse of land between four sacred mountains in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.

It is our place of origin and Navajo spiritual traditions are rooted here. Even when we were forcibly removed from our homeland by the federal government’s Army in the 19th century, our spiritual and cultural connection to these lands has never been extinguished.

Utah Navajos still make use of this historic homeland, which is now known as the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, designated by President Obama in 2016. It is where we practice our ceremonies; gather herbs, firewood and cedar poles; hunt for game; rejuvenate our spirits and caretake our sacred places. Because the monument closely involves us, Navajo and other tribes in the area have been pushing for tribal management.

For many years, the Navajo and other local tribes—Hopi, Uintah, Ouray Ute, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute—worked together to gain federal protection for this land. But what we gained is now threatened by developments that defile and dishonor the cultural and spiritual significance held by Navajo and other Native peoples.

The most recent example is the plan to build a 460-foot telecommunications tower on a parcel of land owned by a Utah state agency, the Trust Lands Administration. The land that would house the tower is in the heart of the Bears Ears National Monument.

If erected, this alien-looking tower will be a spear in the heart of the Bears Ears area. I am also saddened to think there will likely be more inappropriate developments on Utah Trust Lands within Bears Ears, now that the state has derailed a proposed land exchange between the Trust Lands Administration and the federal government.

The land exchange would have helped ensure that Navajo homelands are managed to protect our cultural and spiritual traditions. Now these lands—our heritage—face death by a thousand cuts.

The company placing the telecommunications tower has applied for and received a conditional use permit from San Juan County. But the company must also apply for and receive a variance from the county, because any tower higher than 35 feetis prohibited. So far, it has not applied for a variance.  

The National Park Service opposes the tower and has submitted comments to both the Utah Trust Lands Administration and San Juan County. The federal agency said the tower would blight the viewshed, diminish the area’s dark skies, and harm habitat for several threatened and endangered bird species.

For more than a century my people have had to fight for our rights. In 1868, when Navajos were finally allowed to return from forced exile, we were confined to a reservation south of the San Juan River. It was much reduced in size from our original homeland.

The prime lands higher up near the water and lush vegetation of Bears Ears were denied us. Nevertheless, these lands have always been a part of our cultural traditions, despite a documented history of racial injustices levied against Utah Navajos.

At every level, from county to state to the federal government, that history includes violations of voting rights, education and civil rights. All had to be litigated in federal court. Through all of that, Utah Navajos have fought to conserve and protect the public lands we traditionally used.

These lands need to exist as nature intended—to regenerate traditional plants and provide homes to wildlife that in turn sustain Navajo cultural traditions.

The Utah Trust Lands Administration and the federal government have a chance to do the right thing for Bears Ears. I urge the state of Utah and the federal government to restart discussions about a land exchange.

Otherwise, more out-of-place and inharmonious developments such as this 460-foot blinking tower could come to dominate the Bears Ears landscape.

Mark Maryboy is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He served from 1984 to 2000 as a San Juan County, Utah, commissioner, and from 1990 to 2006, he was a delegate to the Navajo Nation Council.

This column was published in the following newspapers:

06/18/2024 Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City UT
06/19/2024 Gallup Independent Gallup NM
06/19/2024 Vail Daily Vail CO
06/19/2024 MSN.COM Seattle WA
06/19/2024 Las Cruces Sun News Las Cruces NM
06/19/2024 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
06/17/2024 Casper Star Tribune Casper WY
06/18/2024 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
06/20/2024 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
06/21/2024 Laramie Boomerang Laramie WY
06/19/2024 Delta County Independent Delta CO
06/20/2024 Moab Sun Moab UT
06/18/2024 Moab Times Independent Moab UT
06/26/2024 Durango Telegraph Durango CO
06/27/2024 Durango Herald Durango CO
07/10/2024 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
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Justin Kucera
29 days ago

This hurts my heart. I long for an America that strives to protect native cultures and the spiritual and wild places.

Theodora Scarato
24 days ago

Wireless is not safe for humans nor the environment. Studies indicate birds, bees and trees are impacted. Please learn more at https://www.wildlifeandwireless.org/

Mark Maryboy
1 day ago

Anyone that is opposed to the huge tower in the BENM can submit comments to the San Juan County Commission urging the Commission to deny the variance application for the tower (the variance application hasn’t been submitted yet, but is expected to be submitted soon).

Contact info:

Mack McDonald, San Juan County Chief Administrative Officer
Telephone: 435-587-3225
Fax: 435-587-2447
Postal Address: P.O. Box 9, Monticello, Utah 84535E-Mail: mmcdonald@sanjuancounty.org

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