Review: “Battle Over Bears Ears” documentary

I now live in Moab, UT.

I am now, more or less, living right next to ground zero for what is a significant battle in the public lands discourse.

The Bears Ears National Monument, be its previous version, or the smaller versions now present, is a place full of striking beauty, ancient history, and unforgettable moments.

And the battle over this land is reverberating far beyond southeast Utah.

Various articles encapsulate the battle, what it means, and who are the various parties. I suggest reading them. The article from NatGeo, in particular, gives excellent in-depth coverage to the multiple issues.

These articles cover the high-level politics, the industry interests, and how different groups have an invested interest in the land and what is done with the land itself.

Whose land is it? What is the purpose of the land? How is the land best administered?

But what these articles do not do is capture the literal voice of the people directly impacted by the decisions and the debate engendered by these decisions.

The tone of voice, the emotions causing the eyes to well, or the passion for the land itself.  All missing from text on the screen or the (increasingly rare) print medium.

And that is the power of a well-done documentary. The voices are directly heard. The emotions come through in great detail. We understand the people. And even if we do not agree with the views, we can empathize with the people speaking their thoughts and expressing their emotions.

Such is the case with the KUED documentary: Battle Over Bears Ears.

This local PBS station produced a documentary that, in my opinion, takes in all the local voices.

And I do mean local voices. Unlike other articles or similar documentaries, the voices heard aren’t heads of large environmental organizations or industry reps that are Washington-based.

Interviews are of local politicians, people who own local companies that profit from the outdoor industry or the traditional Western business interests, ranchers who maintained the land for generations, authors and writes who live in the area, and Ute, Navajo, and Puebloan people who are both for and against the national monument designation.

It is easy to chastise ranchers as profiting from the land. But then you hear the emotional plea from a local grandmother who raised her family on these lands.  She is worried about losing a way of life and the land she loves and cherishes.

Equally adamant are the voices of outdoor recreationists who feel that the politicians are leading locals by the nose.  Promising jobs and industries that will not effectively come back.

In many ways, this documentary reminds me of The Backbone of the World.  A book written twenty years ago the Continental Divide, the issues raised are similar for this contentious area on the Colorado Plateau.  The perennial questions often about areas west of the 100th meridian. As I noted earlier:  Recreation vs direct economic use of the landPreservation of the dwindling resources vs using them in a sustainable manner.

The Battles over Bears Ears does not give any direct answers. But it does pose many questions.

In the end, there is perhaps one overall arc: One of hope.

Meaning that the Ameican experiment of government by consensus and compromise will help all the parties, views, and conflicts come into agreement.

Perhaps the documentary proposes that the land does belong to all of us. But managing it will mean a compromise between all the groups. And that comprise will affect public land use policy for generations to come.

 Battles over Bears Ears is currently available for streaming on KUED’s website.

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