Bears Ears National Monument: An assessment of conservation values and potential threats

Bears Ears National Monument: An assessment of conservation values and potential threats

CSP finds that the newly protected Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) presents a significant opportunity to conserve key elements of ecological function across the western U.S.

On December 28, 2016, President Obama designated, by proclamation, 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah as BENM. Although these lands, which surround Natural Bridges National Monument and border both Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation area, are now protected, they still face serious threats associated with political pressures to develop the region’s abundant oil, gas, and mineral resources, which include uranium, vanadium, and copper.

BENM is known for its spectacular landscapes and antiquities — ancient cliff dwellings, rock art and ceremonial sites. It is also home to at least 18 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including the California condor, Mexican spotted owl, and greenback cutthroat trout.

A recent connectivity study conducted by Brett Dickson and others identified the BENM as one of three notable areas in the West with high ecological flow. Building on the results of this study, CSP’s Brett Dickson, Meredith McClure, and Christine Albano conducted an analysis of twelve landscape-level indicators of ecological connectivity and intactness, biodiversity, resilience to climate change, remoteness, and threats. This study was initiated by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a group we previously worked with on the groundbreaking Disappearing West project.

Our analysis demonstrated that the BENM far exceeds other similar-size Western landscapes in terms of three key attributes — ecological connectivity and intactness, remoteness, and diversity of rare species and ecosystems —highlighting the need for special management. In fact, when we compared BENM’s ecological significance to that of seven national parks — Arches, Canyonlands, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Yosemite — it rivaled or exceeded them for numerous parameters. Among the significant findings was the monument’s exceptionally low levels of light pollution, suggesting that it is one of the most remote landscapes in the western U.S.

Scores received by BENM (bars) and seven national parks (dots) for each of the 12 ecological indicators by comparing them to a random set of equivalently-sized areas located across the 11 western states. Potential scores range from 0-100 (100 being highest). A score of 93 for a given indicator indicates that the mean value of that indicator in BENM or a given park was greater than or equal to the mean value in 93% of equivalently-sized random samples.

Read “A strategic, practical solution to conserving biodiversity and habitat connectivity in our Disappearing West” to learn more about the importance of connecting protected areas.

Reference: Dickson, B.G., C.M Albano, B.H. McRae, J.J. Anderson, D.M. Theobald, L.J. Zachmann, T.D. Sisk, and M.P. Dombeck. 2016. Informing strategic efforts to expand and connect protected areas using a model of ecological flow, with application to the western US. Conservation Letters. DOI:10.1111/conl.12322