Support National Monuments!

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Anyone who follows conservation news at all has heard by now about the review of National Monuments currently being conducted by the Trump administration. I will of course be sharing my opinion with the BLM. I’ll be commenting on a number of monuments with which I’m personally familiar, starting with Utah’s Bears Ears, which has by far the tightest deadline to submit comments. Please do the same by May 26th!

Any comment helps, but detailed and substantive comments help the most. In particular, I don’t imagine the administration cares much about experiences in the wild and anecdotes of natural beauty; instead, they have explicitly solicited comments on (among other things) whether the monuments are larger than they need to be and whether they contain features of sufficient historic or scientific interest [more]. Good comments should address those questions explicitly. There is an excellent collection of talking points assembled here on Facebook, and another fine collection is in progress here. If you need catching up on the issue generally, Modern Hiker has an excellent run-down with lots of good links.

Please feel free to lift whatever may be useful fro my comments below! And please check back or follow me on Facebook as I post additional comments on other monuments.


Dear Secretary Zinke,

I am writing to express my strong support for maintaining the status and boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument as currently designated. I have camped, hiked and backpacked in the region many times, both as a child and an adult, and I am quite familiar with the landscape and what it contains. The abundance of high quality archaeological sites in Bears Ears clearly marks it as a region of world-class significance, and the fact that visitors can explore these sites in a remote and undeveloped setting of spectacular geology and great beauty sets it apart as unique in the U.S. Preservation of archaeological and geological resources of such quantity and quality is clearly an appropriate use of the Antiquities Act.

Regarding the size of the monument, I will reiterate that the opportunity to explore such archaeologic resources on a landscape-wide scale in a backcountry setting is unique in the U.S., and the monument’s substantial size is key to preserving that opportunity. It is common when wandering cross-country in the region to find artifacts and ruins not marked on any map. Protecting Bears Ears’ resources is not a question of protecting just a few well known sites, but rather preserving the countless less known sites in between. It is also worth noting that the monument’s acreage as designated is significantly smaller than what preservation advocates had proposed, and is comparable to the acreage proposed in Utah Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Several areas with high mineral potential were left out of the presidential proclamation.

I believe concerns about the continuation of traditional uses of the area by local residents and Native Americans were well addressed in the process of designating the monument. It is my wish to see all responsible use of the area continue so long as such is is compatible with preserving the area’s historic and scenic resources. In any case, these are fundamentally questions of how the monument should be managed, not of whether it should exist at all, and therefore have little relevance to the question of whether Bears Ears National Monument’s boundaries should stand as designated.

Those of us who closely followed the years leading up to monument designation know that there was no shortage of debate and opportunities for the public to weight in. Protection of this area has been an issue in the public eye for decades. There is of course disagreement, but it is very clear from polling, public statements and public comment that many Utahns, local residents and local tribal members enthusiastically support the monument, together with many thousands of other Americans.

Finally, let me conclude by saying I would ideally wish that the Bears Ears landscape could simply be left alone. But benign neglect is not realistic in our day and age. When I was young, one could hike for days or return for several visits chasing rumors of good ruin. Now one can find detailed directions in ten minutes on the internet. With such an increase in information and visitation, it is long past time that land managers take a more active role in protecting this landscape. The Bears Ears region seriously needs major increases in visitor education, resource monitoring and above all law enforcement. Please allow the monument designation to stand as originally proclaimed.

Ruin in Bears Ears National Monument, Utah, used by kind permission of Greg Russell


*From the executive order:

In making the requisite determinations, the Secretary is directed to consider:

(i) The requirements and original objectives of the Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected”;
(ii) whether designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest”;
(iii) the effects of a designation on the available uses of designated Federal lands, including consideration of the multiple-use policy of section 102(a)(7) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701(a)(7)), as well as the effects on the available uses of Federal lands beyond the monument boundaries;
(iv) the effects of a designation on the use and enjoyment of non-Federal lands within or beyond monument boundaries;
(v) concerns of State, tribal, and local governments affected by a designation, including the economic development and fiscal condition of affected States, tribes, and localities;
(vi) the availability of Federal resources to properly manage designated areas; and
(vii) such other factors as the Secretary deems appropriate. 82 FR 20429-20430 (May 1, 2017).

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6 thoughts on “Support National Monuments!

  1. They didn’t listen to any locals who live there when making the decision. The local Navajos were against it, the local ranchers, perhaps all the locals who lived there. Instead they listened to out of state Tribal Chiefs and environmental extremists.

    There should be a law passed that the Federal Government shall own no more than 49% of the land in any state. That is very generous, in UT well over 70% of the land has been spirited away by the government. It is robbery.

    Donald Trump’s executive order, a review of designations under the antiquities act of 1906.
    “Review of National Monument Designations. (a) The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) shall conduct a review of all Presidential designations or expansions of designations under the Antiquities Act made since January 1, 1996, where the designation covers more than 100,000 acres, where the designation after expansion covers more than 100,000 acres, or where the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders”…

    “Within 45 days of the date of this order, the Secretary shall provide an interim report to the President”…

    “Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary shall provide a final report to the President”

    I have nothing against preserving special lands for purposes of wildlife and natural beauty. However, personally I feel the Federal Govt. should not be allowed to own more than 49% of the land of any state. 70+% in Utah, is just too much. This is a good first step in the right direction.

    • Nonsense, Rex. There are locals who support the monument, including Utah Navajos. “Out of state tribal chiefs”? That would be tribal members from just over adjacent state borders. And that Federal land in Utah was always Federal, Utah relinquished its claims to it when it became a state. The only Utah lands that have been spirited away are the ones that have been irresponsibly developed or sold off. Frankly, the beauty of Federal land is that I get a say in the management of places I’ve been visiting all my life, regardless of the coincidence that I don’t happen to live within certain arbitrary state borders. I’ve lived and/or worked in almost every state in the west, including Utah, and I believe my voice should count for something. Federal management may be convoluted and bureaucratic, but the lack of transparency, short-sightedness and corruption I see in state land management inspires no confidence whatsoever. You’re entitled to your opinion, of course, but given your views of Federal land, this blog and my photographic work are probably not to your taste. Please do not troll me with common boilerplate talking points and quotations from executive orders of which I’m well aware.

      • Thank you for taking the time to reply. Well, honestly, if you had to deal with the population being crowded into a few Utah valleys right down I-15 and the inherent smog every winter you might think differently sir. I’m sure you will say that is an entirely different issue altogether and we should be cutting back on gasoline consumption or pioneering some technology that is not yet entirely available. Maybe we should do something in that direction but I also feel if people had the right to own private property in Utah outside of a few corridors, our growing population would have a much better chance of being managed in a more responsible way. I posted Mr. Trump’s executive order for the review of those who might not acknowledge the details. I find there is nothing better than to quote from the horse’s mouth and if you want to obfuscate that, you are welcome to do so. You are the one who knowingly and admittedly posted a link to talking points as outlined in the language of your own post. I subscribe to your blog because I enjoy your photography, not because of any particular brand of political views. I remember complimenting you on a nice photo of Notch Peak. Good day sir, carry on. Sorry to have to use pointed language but I feel it is my duty to speak up, as do you. Sorry about that divide.

      • Fair enough, Rex, and I do appreciate the measured response. And I’m sorry if I misinterpreted your posting of the EO. I would not be surprised if I end up living on the Wasatch Front in the not-too-distant future, so believe me, I do think about that stuff, even if I come to different conclusions. Good day to you as well, and I mean that! Take care.

  2. Speaking broadly, I have thought for a long, long time that some sort of review on the administration and jurisdiction of public lands was in order. For most of the 20th century the NPS administered national monuments alongside national parks. Beginning in the late 70’s or early 80’s that rule of thumb began to get dilute. First the forest service had a few monuments under its control like Mount St. Helens (which is really the first one I can think of). Then, under president Clinton, we got a whole host of new monuments, most of them under the administration of the BLM and even one run by the fish & wildlife service (Hanford Reach). The whole thing is a taxonomic mess. All that to say, some sort of realignment is in order these days. The one aspect of the Trump administration’s review that should be encouraged, in my opinion, is the transference of many properties to the NPS, in order to operate them appropriately. Places like Mount St. Helens, Grand Staircase-Escalante and even Upper Missouri River Breaks seem like natural fits for development as national parks. I know that many may see that as a negative, since that will no doubt result in increased usage. However, more people being exposed to places and seeing their beauty and value will only help the cause of conservation in the long run, I believe. Moreover, sound planning can channel use to a few spots, leaving the rest of these parks seldom used backcountry. Speaking from experience in Yosemite, the infamous crowds rarely venture beyond the maintained paths and nearly the entirety of the park is left wild and unspoiled.

    In a more focused view, I do think that there has been overreach in some of the national monuments that have been created. While some controversial ones were indeed warranted, like Grand Staircase, other are…superfluous in my opinion and there isn’t a lot of cohesive planning in place for them. I have extensive personal experience with two such monuments. One is Cascade-Siskiyou, which is on the California/Oregon border just north of me. It is a place I have hiked often and can see from pretty much anywhere a couple miles north of my house. There are certainly some notable features there but it hardly seems worthy of a designation that often implies something of greater prominence than that area possesses. Moreover, once having been established as a monument, no development of infrastructure has taken place there in over 20 years. Expanding the monument to the west significantly was considered early on in the Obama administration but it met with near universal local opposition. Instead the monument was expanded eastward, where there are few almost no residents. I am not sure what was accomplished by this expansion, since the area it now encompasses is fairly unremarkable timberland. The area that is truly of particular interest is the western area, where the transition from the Klamath Mountains to the Cascade bioregions is most evident. On top of this, there is a newly created wilderness area (Soda Mountain) which is contained wholly within the boundaries of the monument. This seems to me to muddy the waters as far as what the monument is intended to accomplish. I am not against some sort monument here, but if there is going to be one (as opposed to the wilderness area, which I am in favor of) then there needs to be some development to justify the designation.

    The same can be said for the new Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument. This is down in my old stomping grounds where I grew up. I can’t say how much time I have spent in this area but it is a lot and going back 30 years or so now. The problems with this monument are legion. Chief among them are, like the Cascade-Siskiyou, a general lack of attraction. There are some really neat things in that area, including some great hikes, some good waterfalls and some rugged mountains, but, generally speaking, these are not things that I would have thought would form the basis for a national monument. There are many, many areas in California that are just like or even more interesting. The other great problem with this monument is the host of land owners that are now a part of it. Aside from significant private territory within the monument, there is federal, state and county lands. Even those can be subdivided. The Berryessa area is generally BLM while the Snow Mountain territory is predominantly forest service. The state lands are fish & game, and even University of California. Complicating things further, there are three wilderness areas within the monument (Cedar Roughs, Cache Creek and Snow Mountain). Individually, each of these areas deserve protection, but I am uncertain what the monument adds that the wilderness designation does not already achieve. I can also state with a high degree of personal experience, that the establishment of the monument has ended a large, promising, green energy project in that area. And what is the trade off? I am not sure what the monument actually accomplishes.

    I am a strong advocate of the conservation of the natural world. I think more of it needs to be preserved. However, I do think the Antiquities Act should be used with more restraint that it has been over the last 25 years. When vast swaths of land are unilaterally declared monuments, it is going to infuriate people and make the presence of those monuments a sore spot among locals and a point of contention between conservationists and those who oppose such things for whatever reason. I believe that designation of monuments should be targeted and specific and followed up with the appropriate degree of development that would be commensurate with some destination being elevated into the ranks of the hallowed group of lands that have been destinations for Americans for generations. Rather than the unilateral creation of huge monuments, I think it would be much better to work towards the creation of national parks and wilderness areas. The same ends will be achieved but Congress will have been involved. In many ways, this will take the contentious nature off the table, since the representative side of the government will have played a role. This can be done before. Large wilderness bills were passed during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

    The bottom line is that, despite the acrimony that is present in politics these days, there can be some common ground in conservation, no matter what side of the political spectrum one is on. I think both sides create the hostile and intractable state things are in now. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Bubba! I know you take the issues seriously and have thought a lot about this stuff, so I’m always interested in your observations. Interesting to hear about Berryessa and Cascade-Siskiyou from someone who really knows the terrain – I really don’t know a lot about those areas and probably won’t comment specifically on them. I do feel similar observations could be made about some other monuments on the list. And I agree that the cross-jurisdictional thing and vast differences in management styles of monuments is a mess and really confuses a lot of the issues. But still, many or most of the monuments in question are very defensible. The bottom line is that the current climate is simply not conducive to thoughtful re-imagining like you suggest, and the precedent at stake here unfortunately outweighs the more subtle issues.

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