This Friday, May 26, 2017, is the deadline for public comments to Secretary Ryan Zinke about the Trump Administration’s notice in the Federal Register on reviewing Bears Ears National Monument. I genuinely believe that the current size and boundaries are at severe risk of being significantly reduced, if it isn’t rescinded (read eliminated) altogether, and the boots-on-the-ground lobbyists I know are saying that the quantity and quality of input during this comment period, for Bears Ears through Friday and all other National Monuments through July 10, 2017, could turn the tide.
I submitted my personal comments about Bears Ears earlier today in an open letter. This letter is far from my best work, but I wanted to share this today in hopes you might submit your own and add to the volume of comments in support of Bears Ears and public lands in general.
May 22, 2017
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke:
Thank you for your recent visit to Southern Utah and the opportunity for me to provide input on your notice published in the Federal Register on May 11, 2017 regarding the “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996.” I will focus my comments on Bears Ears National Monument (BENM). I understand that you can’t possibly read every letter personally, but I hope this one is selected to be a sample for you to review.
I have spent nearly 20 years working in real estate and public policy and have always been passionate about conservation, climbing, and hiking. However, my interest in Southern Utah has swung dramatically from adamant disinterest to a kindling passion. I had long thought of the deserts of the southwest as useless land and perhaps only suitable for providing resources to support the needs of construction and other materials in towns and cities. I also thought it was less useful than the forests, like those in my native home of Upstate New York. However, a business trip brought me to the American southwest and changed my whole perspective. I took in the space, the breeze, the solitude, and the colors and realized this land wasn’t a blank on the map but someplace special. My eyes were opened, and shortly afterwards Utah in particular took on new interest; I learned that the land of Southern Utah was more ecologically diverse than the even the Adirondack Mountains where I loved to hike and climb; in fact, it was more diverse than all of Yellowstone National Park. And the history of the people was richer, and deeper than even the Iroquois. While the Iroquois largely avoided entering the Adirondacks, the area around southeastern Utah, was in and of itself, was not a destination, rather an important place. I suspect that your visit to Southern Utah had a powerful and transforming effect on you.
As you know, perhaps better than me, the Antiquities Act of 1906 was created in order to protect objects of historic and scientific interest. Since the law’s enactment, presidents have named well-over 100 National Monuments, some of which have gone on to be National Parks. I believe that the 1.3 million-acres of BENM is quite worthy of its designation for various reasons. The region around BENM holds a significant quantity of preserved and intact Native American structures and artifacts. In addition, BENM is one of the most admired outdoor recreation destinations in the U.S. Its landscape has a deep impact on those who spend time there rock climbing, mountain biking, paddling, hiking, hunting, fishing, and canyoneering. In fact, the rock climbing is truly world-class and annually attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to climb at Indian Creek, Valley of the Gods, and many other walls throughout the monument.
A friend and well-known economist at a real estate finance trade association once discussed with me why communities choose affordable housing versus developing a shopping and business center, and the lesson applies to all kinds of land use. He said that land ought to always be used for its highest economic value; in the Midwest that mostly means using it for farming; on the other hand, in Manhattan, this means using land for mixed-use high rises. Except in Manhattan, there is the anomaly Central Park. He went on to explain that communities must decide what else is a worthy use, and thereby valuable purpose. This applies to affordable housing, farmland, and even how the land is zoned, managed, and controlled, as is the case with National Monuments; in the case of BENM, there is no replacing it.
The region in and around BENM holds 100,000 archaeological sites of preserved and intact Native American structures and artifacts. Unfortunately, these artifacts have been not been treated with due respect, and the protections that come with the designation of a National Monument comes too late as local Utahans, including local officials, have looted the sites. At the same time, local officials complain of perceiving a dominant federal government control. In fact, in 2014 San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman lead an ATV ride up Recapture Canyon, where off-roading was not permitted because of the antiquities throughout the region. (This region in particular, unfortunately, was not included in the final BENM proclamation.) He was jailed for his violation in 2015, yet was “honored” for his actions by being nominated “Commissioner of the Year.” For such abuses, and in the interest of reassuring public appreciation for the area’s cultural and historical roots alone, appears to be what the authority under the Antiquities Act was created to protect.
In addition, the vertical landscape itself is unique, and climbers like me want to ensure it’s protected for all of the reasons and mentioned as well as this: In his special-jury mentioned book at the 2001 Banff Mountain Book Festival, American Rock: Region, Rock, and Culture in American Climbing, Adirondack climbing guide and author Don Mellor wrote, “If there ever comes a time when all the routes are done, all the climbing areas on earth explored, climbed, and documented, Indian Creek [in BENM] will probably still top the list as crack-climbing Mecca to the world… Few places on earth have such parallel-sided, featureless cracks.” It’s also no wonder that in the declaration for BENM that rock climbing was specifically enumerated as a permitted recreational activity. I urge you to please preserve rock climbing as a permissible activity as well.
I believe BENM must never be shrunk nor repealed. In fact, BENM does not adequately cover the additional historical sites and recreational areas of Utah covering nearly 600,000 more acres. It is a remarkable wilderness landscape. Beyond the monument’s namesake twin buttes are world-renowned wilderness treasures like White Canyon, Indian Creek, and Comb Ridge. Myriad plant and animal species thrive in its varied habitats. And you’d be hard pressed to find the solitude provided by these areas elsewhere else in the lower 48.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
CC: Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, and Rep. Don Beyer