An Interview with Josh Ewing of Friends of Cedar Mesa
We caught up with Josh Ewing, Executive Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa (FCM) on a day when he was acting as “sole parent in charge” of the Bears Ears Education Center in Bluff, Utah. The newly-established Center opened in fall 2018 following a grassroots funding effort that elicited donations from 3000 individuals from around the world. The outpouring of support and money served as testimony to the widespread resonance of the ongoing efforts to protect Bears Ears. The Center’s main goal is to provide tourists with the information they need to carefully and respectfully visit the archaeological sites and natural wonders within the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument established by President Obama in 2016 (and reduced by President Trump in 2017).
During the eight weeks the Center was open during September and October, more than 1500 visitors stopped at the Center prior to visiting Bears Ears. “Our goal for 2019 — perhaps a bit optimistic — is to reach 10,000 of the increasing number of visitors coming to Bears Ears, and to add to the number of volunteers contributing to the Center’s effort,” said Ewing whose voice and cadence reflected the relentless optimism that has enabled him, with the help of dedicated staff and volunteers, to build the Center and attract supporters for its Visit with Respect program. “We’re focusing our efforts on folks visiting the major archaeological sites in and around Cedar Mesa, and in the southern part of Bears Ears,” he said.
Ewing and FCM are committed to working with the five tribes - the Zuni, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe, and the Navajo Nation - that in their support of monument designation advocated for the importance of developing approaches to visitation and site protection that reflect the tribes’ historical, cultural, and spiritual connections to the land. “During the past year, we have been working with the tribes, mainly through the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition," said Ewing. "We’ve taken their leaders to sites, listened their biggest concerns about threats to the area, and have begun incorporating their knowledge into what we do at the Education Center."
Ewing has continued to hold low-key conversations with local BLM and U.S. Forest service staff. The two agencies currently manage the land comprising Trump's reduced Bears Ears National Monument. “At present, they are only open to discussions regarding the two Trump parcels. But I hope that once the legal status of the monument is resolved, we can begin to share our thoughts regarding protection on the broader landscape.”
Among the many things that are taking Ewing's time time, his most immediate concern is with an effort by the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, colloquially known as SITLA, who have proposed a solar array farm on Bluff Bench. "The area selected by SITLA for the array lies within the Obama monument boundaries, and we think it would be a mistake to allow a project like that to proceed before the legal status of the monument has been resolved by the courts," Ewing said.