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Southern Utah’s red-rock country has inspired people for generations for its spectacular beauty, incredible history, and unforgettable recreational opportunities. But now key areas of that majestic landscape—the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments—are at risk as part of Interior Sec. Zinke’s sham “review” of national monuments. That’s why LCV traveled to Utah to learn more about these parks and hear from people whose livelihoods are threatened if the Trump administration were to remove protections for these national monuments.
President Obama designated the 1.3 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah in December 2016 following a historic coming-together of five tribes—known as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—who advocated for protecting lands they consider sacred. The landscape contains more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites.
Bears Ears is also an outdoor paradise, with world-class rock climbing, amazing mountain biking, and spectacular backpacking opportunities. That is why people and companies who love and depend on the outdoors have championed Bears Ears and called for it to remain protected. For example, check out Patagonia’s gorgeous multi-media experience about Bears Ears.
It’s no surprise Bears Ears has tremendous support among Utahans. Poll after poll after poll has revealed wide support for the monument among residents of the Beehive State. So why are so many Utah politicians—like Governor Harbert, Senators Lee and Hatch, and Rep. Bishop—taking such an unpopular position by calling for the monument to lose its protections? Perhaps it is because—as the Salt Lake Tribune titled one its articles—the “oil and gas industry will pounce if Bears Ears shrinks.” Unsurprisingly, Sec. Zinke is doing the industry’s bidding by proposing interim recommendations that Bears Ears be reduced in size, which spurred strong pushback from Senator Tom Udall—the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs—who called the recommendations “deeply disrespectful and insulting” to the tribes who advocated for the protection of Bears Ears.
President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, setting aside 1.9 million acres of sandstone cliffs, slickrock, slot canyons, and scenic backroads with views as far as the eye can see. This is the largest land monument in the country, with countless geological, biological, historical, and archaeological resources as well as incredible recreational opportunities. As an indication of its remoteness, the area was one of the last places in the continental United States to ever be mapped.
During its more than 20 years in existence, the monument has proven to be a strong economic driver for the region. That’s why business groups like the Escalante, Utah Chamber of Commerce have spoken out against any effort to remove protections for the monument. While LCV was in another one of the monument’s gateway communities—Kanab, Utah—we spoke with local business owners Charles Neumann and Victor Cooper on why we need to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante.
This stunning monument, like Bears Ears, has wide support in Utah. A survey last year revealed that 52% of Utahans think the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante was a good thing for Utah, compared to 23% who said it was a bad thing for the state. But with the Western Energy Alliance—an oil industry mouthpiece—admitting that the industry would like to get its hands on Grand Staircase-Escalante, it’s no surprise some of Utah’s political leadership are calling on Sec. Zinke to remove protections for this spectacular landscape.
Outdoor Retailer and the March for Public Lands
This July LCV attended the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, the largest outdoor sports show of its kind featuring thousands of companies who manufacture gear for hiking, camping, fishing, and paddling, to name a few. After 22 years in Salt Lake City, the trade show recently made the decision that this would be its last year holding the expo in Utah in protest of the anti-public lands policies espoused by the state’s political leadership, which threaten the foundation of the $887 billion outdoor recreation industry. Executives from Oru Kayak, Klean Kanteen, and Last Bottle Clothing spoke with LCV about why keeping public lands protected is so important to their business:
Many of the people at Outdoor Retailer joined Utah residents in participating in the “This Land is Our Land March for Public Lands” on July 27. As the march was getting underway, LCV’s Deputy Legislative Director Alex Taurel had a conversation on Facebook Live with Kirsten Blackburn with The Conservation Alliance, a non-profit organization that helped organize the march and which engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations to protect wild places for their habitat and recreation values.
Around 3,000 people participated in the march through downtown Salt Lake City, which culminated in a rally outside the Utah state Capitol featuring speeches by the CEO of REI, a member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a business owner from a gateway town for Grand Staircase-Escalante, and others.
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