Bears Ears National Monument
Issues: National Parks, Wild Lands
Partners: Grand Canyon Trust, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
Airport Origin : Blanding, UT
With conservationists, Tribal leaders, and members of the media, we flew over the recently restored Bears Ears National Monument, examining threats to the landscape and cultural values of the region.
The 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument was re-established on Oct 8, 2021, by President Biden, along with Grand Staircase-Escalante. Abundant cultural resources, sacred lands, and areas deeply valued by the Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblos are protected through these National Monuments. The restoration safeguards the delicate desert ecosystem and wildlife.
Right next to Bears Ears National Monument and the White Mesa Ute Mountain Ute community is the White Mesa uranium mill. The mill poses outstanding risks to the Ute Mountain Utes, poisoning their land and groundwater with toxic and radioactive waste. These problems are only intensifying. White Mesa has become a worldwide destination for radioactive waste, recently accepting 1.4 million pounds of toxic waste from Estonia.
White Mesa has been in violation of EPA regulations that require cells holding radioactive waste to be fully covered with water. The inadequate liquid coverage emits about 10 times more radon than a covered cell.
On our March 31 overflight, the Mill was still out of compliance, but the cells were being covered with liquid. After pressure from our flight partners, the community, and the Ute Mountain Utes, the operator has began covering the radioactive material, but remains out of compliance with holding pit regulations.