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Bears Ears named one of nation's most 'endangered' places

SALT LAKE CITY — The National Trust For Historic Preservation added the Bears Ears region to its 2016 list of the 11 most "endangered" historical places in the country, citing low federal agency staffing and mismanaged recreational use.

In adding the nearly 2 million acre region to its list, the nonprofit, privately funded organization said the Bureau of Land Management — the agency chiefly in charge of the resources in the area — has only two archaeologists and two rangers working there.

The group said lack of resources and funding are fostering degradation of the landscape, including destruction from looting. It asserts there is mismanaged recreational use and threats from energy development.

"The Bears Ears region provides a tangible link to the diverse stories of 12,000 years of human history,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the group.

The remote region is home to more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites associated with the Pueblo, Navajo, Ute and Zuni tribes, including ice age hunting camps, cliff dwellings, prehistoric villages, petroglyphs and pictographs.

Meek says the organization supports the designation of a 1.9 million-acre national monument for Bears Ears to safeguard the region.

Critics of the monument proposal say such a designation doesn't necessarily come with more money and resources to protect prized cultural resources from looting or destruction, and federal laws safeguarding cultural resources that are already on the books should be enforced.

San Juan County commissioners argued in particular that classifying the region as a monument will drive more tourists to sacred sites and risk further exposure to vandalism and looting.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition has been pushing for monument protection, lobbying the Obama administration to exercise presidential authority under the Antiquities Act, saying tribes have been ignored in their desire for landscape safeguards.

San Juan County, Monticello and Blanding leaders have all come out against the proposal, as has Utah's congressional delegation and Gov. Gary Herbert.

The 29th annual list put out by the preservation organization includes multiple historic areas in the nation's urban centers, including the iconic waterfront of San Francisco Embarcadero, historic downtown Flemington in New Jersey — the site of the Charles Lindberg baby kidnapping trial — and Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes, described as a unique mid-century engineering marvel.

“This year’s list elevates important threatened historic places in our nation’s cities at a time when more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas," Meek said.

"We know that preservation is an essential part of the current urban renaissance and that old buildings contribute to the sustainability and walkability of our communities. Historic buildings are also powerful economic engines that spur revitalization, meet a broad range of human needs, and enhance the quality of life for us all."

The 2016 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):

Austin’s Lions Municipal Golf Course — Austin, Texas. Widely regarded as the first municipal golf course in the South to desegregate, “Muny” is an unheralded civil rights landmark facing development pressure.

Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall at Lincoln University — Lincoln, Pennsylvania. The oldest building on the campus of the first degree-granting institution in the nation for African-Americans, this hallowed building currently stands empty and faces an uncertain future.

Bears Ears southeastern Utah. The 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears cultural landscape features a world-class collection of archaeological sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and ancient roads that illuminate 12,000 years of human history yet is now threatened by looting, mismanaged recreational use and energy development.

Charleston Naval Hospital District — North Charleston, South Carolina. The historic district played a prominent role during World War II as a primary re-entry point for American servicemen injured in Europe and Africa. Now threatened by a proposed rail line, this important historic resource is at risk of being largely destroyed.

Delta Queen — Houma, Louisiana. This steamboat was built in 1926 and today is among the last of her kind. Federal legislation that would enable this prestigious ship to return to overnight passenger cruising remains a key piece to securing the Delta Queen’s sustainability and future.

El Paso’s Chihuahuita and El Segundo Barrio Neighborhoods — El Paso, Texas. These historic neighborhoods form the core of El Paso’s cultural identity, but their homes and small businesses are threatened by demolition.

Historic Downtown Flemington — Flemington, New Jersey. Historic buildings at the core of the town that hosted the "Trial of the Century," the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, are threatened by a development proposal that would demolish the iconic Union Hotel along with three other adjacent historic buildings.

James River — James City County, Virginia. Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement, was founded along the banks of the James River in 1607. The river and landscape, also named to this list by the trust in 2013, remain threatened by a proposed transmission line project that would compromise the scenic integrity of this historic area.

Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes — Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A beloved Milwaukee institution for generations, a unique engineering marvel and a highly significant example of midcentury modern architecture, the Milwaukee Domes are facing calls for their demolition.

San Francisco Embarcadero — San Francisco, California. The City by the Bays’ iconic waterfront is beloved by residents and visitors alike but needs long-term planning to address the dual natural threats of sea level rise and seismic vulnerability.

Sunshine Mile — Tucson, Arizona. This 2-mile corridor on Tucson’s Broadway Boulevard features one of the most significant concentrations of historic midcentury modern architecture in the Southwest. This unique collection of properties face threats from a transportation project that would require demolition.


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