Bears Ears under review (again), Seldom Seen Sleight and southern Utah's radioactive past

January highlights from the Canyon Echo newsletter

Within hours of his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that initiated a 60-day review of several national monuments reduced by former President Donald Trump, including Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears in southern Utah.

My colleague Brian Maffly and I spoke with Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, a former Clinton administration staffer, local leaders and Indigenous activists about how the review process might shake out.

President Joe Biden’s order to review Utah monuments leaves options open, but expansion all but certain

As soon as Biden’s order came down, Utah’s Congressional delegation renewed its criticism of national monument designations, saying they’re examples of “federal overreach” and are little more than “land grabs” by the “absentee landlord” in Washington D.C.

(Utah leaders also said locals should be included in monument discussions. Grand County, San Juan County, the Navajo Nation and the Utah Navajo Commission all support restoring Bears Ears.)

Are these objections new? I put that question to David Gessner, author of the great new Teddy Roosevelt “adventure biography,” Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness.

The answer, Gessner explained, is no. When Roosevelt declared a 808,000-acre Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 (while an Arizona hotel owner was charging people to use outhouses along the Bright Angel Trail), Roosevelt’s use of the Antiquities Act was litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with Teddy.

I highly recommend the whole interview:

Presidential ‘superpower’: The federal Antiquities Act and its use in carving out national monuments


San Juan County survivors seek justice

Pulitzer prize-winning Tribune reporter Jessica Miller spoke with several young survivors of sexual violence in San Juan County who feel serial perpetrators, some of whom have been accused of assaulting nearly a dozen girls, are being let off with lenient sentences. I made a few contributions to Jessica’s powerful reporting.

Special report: Young sex abuse survivors, backed by a county attorney, say a new Utah law deprived them of justice

(Leah Hogsten  |  The Salt Lake Tribune) Annie, now 20, was 16-years old when a classmate in high school raped her and then told her from that moment on, "You're my girlfriend, but I'm not your boyfriend." From that moment on, he stalked her almost daily. San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws said he wanted to prosecute Annie's attacker in adult court for sexual assault, but a gap in the law prevented him from doing so.
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Annie, now 20, was 16 years old when a classmate in high school raped her and then told her "You're my girlfriend, but I'm not your boyfriend." From that moment on, he stalked her almost daily. San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws said he wanted to prosecute Annie's attacker in adult court for sexual assault, but a gap in the law prevented him from doing so.

Uranium debate rages

I spoke with Energy Fuels CEO Mark Chalmers about the devastating history of 20th-century uranium production on workers, residents and the environment in the Four Corners. Chalmers argued that modern-day industry best practices and regulatory standards make uranium mining and milling safe, and that it’s unfair when activists conflate his company’s activities with disasters of the Cold War era.

But former White Mesa Mill worker Phillip Rentz, a member of the Navajo Nation, said he was ordered to bury radioactive material in trenches at the mill over a decade ago that could cause problems in years to come. Rentz also said 40-year-old tailings pond liners are leaking and that if the facility isn’t already contaminating groundwater, it’s only a matter of time.

Can the White Mesa uranium mill shake southern Utah’s radioactive past?

(Courtesy of Dom Smith | EcoFlight) Energy Fuels' White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah, is the last conventional uranium mill still operating in the United States.
(Courtesy of Dom Smith | EcoFlight) Energy Fuels' White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah, is the last conventional uranium mill still operating in the United States.

And I wrote about an activist in Japan who is protesting her government’s plan to sign a contract with Energy Fuels.

Activists in Japan rally against plans to export radioactive material to Utah

(Courtesy of Tomoyo Tamayama) Activists pose for a photo before their visit to a Japan Atomic Energy Agency site in southern Japan that plans to ship radioactive material to Utah for processing. Tomoyo Tamayama (below)  researched the legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation in two postgraduate programs.
(Courtesy of Tomoyo Tamayama) Activists pose for a photo before their visit to a Japan Atomic Energy Agency site in southern Japan that plans to ship radioactive material to Utah for processing. Tomoyo Tamayama (bottom row) researched the legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation in two postgraduate programs.

Seldom Seen Sleight

My interview with the 91-year-old river running legend and inspiration for Ed Abbey’s character Seldom Seen Smith:

New film chronicles environmental ‘outlaw’ Ken Sleight’s fight to restore Glen Canyon

Recommended reading

— Last summer Tribune photographer Leah Hogsten and I reported on the incredible women who keep the remote clinic in Navajo Mountain, Utah, running. Wudan Yan of Elemental recently wrote a moving profile of one of the clinic workers with photos from Sharon Chischilly, who is often hailed as the best young photographer on the Navajo Nation.

— “Bears Ears is just the beginning” (High Country News / Jessica Douglas and Graham Lee Brewer)

— “Around A Third Of Those Eligible For The COVID-19 Vaccine In Southeast Utah Have Opted Out” (KUER / Kate Groetzinger)

— “How One Paper Is Covering COVID-19 in the Most Under-Connected Part of the U.S.” Beautiful short video documentary on the Navajo Times. (New Yorker)

— Former High Country News editor and fellow Torrey House Press author Jonathan Thompson has a new Substack, and it’s very good: www.landdesk.org

And yes, this happened:

Share

Leave a comment