Canoeists paddle the San Juan River near the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Photo Aaron Schmidt.

Canoe & Kayak recently joined the staff of SUP magazine for a three-day trip down the San Juan River, which is renowned for its secluded red rock canyons, Class II rapids, and rich archaeology. Photo Aaron Schmidt.

President Obama created a 1.35-million-acre national monument in southeastern Utah Wednesday, further cementing his administration’s conservation legacy. The new Bears Ears National Monument covers a sprawling desert and mountain landscape which contains tens of thousands of archeological sites dating back at least 5,000 years. The monument was first proposed by a coalition of five Native American tribes who have cultural ties to the area.

Obama used the Antiquities Act, a Teddy Roosevelt-era law designed to protect historic and prehistoric landmarks, to create the monument despite strong opposition from elected Utah officials who decried new restrictions placed on drilling, mining, and development.

The monument’s boundaries are bookended on the north and south by the Colorado and San Juan rivers, both of which are popular multi-day paddling destinations renowned for their wilderness qualities and archeological resources.

The presidential proclamation released by the White House, calls Bears Ears “one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States.” It states there will be a Tribal Bears Ears Commission consisting of “one elected officer each from the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe.” Bears Ears is the first national monument to elevate tribal partners through a formal commission that will provide input on the monument’s management plan.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement, “We are particularly pleased that the designation affirms tribal sovereignty and provides a collaborative role for Tribes to work with the federal government in maintaining the land.”

Obama also created the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada on Wednesday. According to the Washington Post, “He has invoked his executive power to create national monuments 29 times during his tenure, establishing or expanding protections for more than 553 million acres of federal lands and waters.”

While the opposition has said they will challenge the monuments, according to The New York Times, no president has undone a designation in the 110 years since the Antiquities Act was created.

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