Through Local Eyes: One Utahn’s Fight for Our Public Lands

In early December, a crowd gathered outside Utah’s Capitol building to protest the Trump administration’s unprecedented plan to shrink our national monuments. Thousands of people showed up. Together, people stood for places that tell the long and varied story of our country, the story of our past. And while the crowd stood together for one grand idea, each person also carried with them their own unique perspective and connection to our lands.

LCV staff caught up with Utah resident and LCV member Peter Gatch, who shared with us his reasons for supporting the protection of our national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which were under the Trump administration’s immediate attack.

Peter standing with his protest sign in front of Utah’s Capitol building

LCV: For you, what was the highlight of the Utah rally for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante?

Peter: For me, a highlight of the rally was its enormity: 5,000-plus Utahns, including many Native Americans. The massive number of passionate supporters was evidence that our forefathers got it right with the First Amendment’s right “of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Another highlight was participating in the rally with my homemade protest sign. Mine said, “Don’t Shrink Bears Ears or Grand Staircase,” colored in red, white and blue. Although my sign’s impact was minute, I liken it to voting. One vote may not change the world but combined with many other votes it can make a difference.

LCV: If you could tell the Trump administration one thing about our public lands, what would you say?

Peter: If I could tell the Trump administration one thing about our public lands it might be to encourage President Trump to visit our public lands. Mr. Trump, see and experience Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante’s incredible beauty and archaeological sites, first hand. Visit some other of America’s national monuments, celebrated national parks and other public lands. Listen to all points of view regarding public land issues, including the outdoor industry, local business people, conservationists, environmentalists and Native Americans.

LCV: What do these public lands mean to you personally?

Peter: To me personally, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are a many-layered thing. It’s hiking a couple weeks ago with my wife to the ancient Ancestral Puebloan ruin called House on Fire. It’s camping on a cold November night on my 50th birthday in Grand Gulch. It’s retracing the steps of the lost desert wanderer Everett Ruess in Davis Gulch. It’s rappelling down the Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon. It’s wet feet from hiking for hours down the Escalante River. It’s the silence, solitude, red rock walls, fall cottonwood trees, Sego Lilies, dinosaur fossils, camp fires, dark skies, pot sherds, petroglyphs, clean air, rising full moon, jack rabbits, song birds, ravens, comradery, and bonding with friends and family. It’s getting your thoughts into the present and re-energizing your mind and soul.

It’s something I always want for me and for everyone else who seeks it; it’s an option I never want to go away. Now more than ever, our dwindling, undeveloped, unextracted scenic public wildlands need protection.

LCV: Why do you think it’s important to protect our public lands and waters?

Peter: Besides the sustainable recreation opportunities and solace these places give us, they are a source of clean water to drink, their trees clean our air and they are habitat for a variety of living things that are a part of our critical, interconnected biodiversity. Our public lands, waters and oceans are an important part of a healthy planet. A planet—our home—that is in danger from the impacts of human made climate change. Climate change that I feel is likely the biggest threat to the future of mankind, not only to the quality of our lives but to the health and stability of our economy.

LCV: Do you have any last thoughts to leave us with?

Peter: I share the feelings of a writer of the outdoor world, Terry Tempest Williams:

“Our public lands—whether a national park or monument, wildlife refuge, forest or prairie—make each one of us land-rich. It is our inheritance as citizens of a country called America.”

***

Join Peter in his fight to keep our public lands in public hands by standing with Bears Ears.

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