Seeking to right the wrong of ending protection to Bears Ears
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From my front row seat on the House Natural Resources Committee, I’ve watched this administration ignore America’s historic commitments to our protected federal lands as they put them up for sale to the highest bidder. I think I speak for many of us when I say we’ve had enough.

That’s why I recently set out to Bears Ears to see for myself the land Trump couldn’t be bothered to visit before he slashed the protections that kept these pieces of the Bears Ears National Monument free of disruptive energy development.

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As I tucked my desert-worn combat boots into my hiking pack, I couldn’t help but remember how restorative sites like these were after I returned from Iraq. I can still picture the view overlooking the Valley after a hike up South Mountain, in the U.S.’s largest municipal park, just miles from my Phoenix home. I’d sit at the intersection of three mountain ranges and clear my head. Like many other veterans who have returned from war, and like our Native American brothers and sisters, I found peace in these wild, natural expanses.

But I’d only begun to know how integral these lands were to tribal well-being. For the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Zuni Nations who fought tooth and nail for permanent protection of their ancestral lands, this is life.

Just three years ago, these tribes joined forces in a historic, Inter-Tribal coalition to advance permanent protection of the lands once encompassed in the Bears Ears National Monument. It’s a prime example of what the Antiquities Act was intended to protect, representing an invaluable encapsulation of Tribal Nation history and culture, sites for scientific research, and unmatched recreation opportunities for outdoorsmen. These are sites that tell the stories of our past.

Sadly, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE’s proclamation would effectively eliminate some of our most iconic public landscapes. In fact, we now know the somewhat erratic new boundaries were never about the “local control” Trump lauded in his announcement speech, or preserving key conservation areas or sacred tribal sites. Instead, the new map was designed to “resolve all known mineral conflicts” – that’s polite speak for carve out potential uranium and fossil fuel sites for ease of access. Bears Ears is at immediate risk of being mined for uranium. This is a worst case scenario – and no one knows this painful lesson better than the tribes.

To counter the Trump administration’s terrible decision, I introduced H.R. 4518, the Bears Ears National Monument Expansion Act, which would codify permanent protections for the land and prevent irreversible damage from fossil fuel extraction. Such development would decimate sacred sites and leave Tribal Nations who reside here to face numerous health risks.

Millions of Americans submitted public comments during the Interior Department’s monument review saying the same. There’s no reason to treat this as a zero sum game. If Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Big-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site MORE wants to get serious about his “all of the above” energy agenda, there are lots of promising places to look. I welcome him to visit Arizona anytime to see the impressive advancements we’re making in solar and other clean energy technologies.

America can continue its energy leadership without building it on the backs of tribes and corrupting the health of American workers. There’s a well-known Native American proverb that says “Knowledge is of the past. Wisdom is of the future.” We know where we’ve been, and where we’ve faltered. Let’s have the wisdom to do better from here on out.

Gallego represents Arizona’s 7th District and serves on the Committee on Natural Resources.