February 10, 2018 / Comments (1)

“Bears Ears – But Who’s Listening”

[Editorial Note:: This article, in substantially the same form, was published previously at Blue Ridge Outdoors]


UPDATE:  Since the publication of this article, Secretary of the Interior Zinke completed the study order by President T  He recommended that 6 of the 27  national monuments under review have their border (their size) reduced.  In the case of Bears Ear the recommendation was dramatic – Zinke suggested that Bears Ears be reduced from over 1.3 million acres to 200,000 acres.  Litigation was commenced almost immediately.  The question of whether and/or to what extent a president has the authority to reduce national monuments once created will almost certainly be decided by the courts.  The one thing that is certain is that for citizens who care about protecting national treasures like Bears Ears or the APPALACHIAN TRAIL, need to always remain vigilant to influence lawmakers that can impact parks and wilderness areas – hence, one very good reason to support the RTK AT Challenge.


In late July the outdoor recreation industry gathered in Utah for its annual summer trade show, known in the business as “OR.” Most everyone connected with outdoor recreation exhibits or attends the event to see the latest in products and services and to plan for the next outdoor season. Salt Lake City had served as the host city for the 35-year-old, four-day, mega trade show for the last 20 years – estimated to generate over $44 million of local economic impact. In February, however, the OR’s largest annual participant, Patagonia, was a “no show” – literally, choosing to boycott the event due to the host state’s failure to commit unequivocally to preserve public lands; more specifically because of its indication that it would ask the Trump administration to rescind the designation of Bears Ears as a national monument. Other companies joined the boycott and what looked like a developing storm that might envelop the show or distract attendees passed by the exhibitors quickly, but not without making marks that may reverberate for years.


As one of his last acts as president, Barrack Obama signed an executive order designating “Bears Ears” – a 1.34 million acre tract of land in southeast Utah – as a “national monument.” (Bears Ears is located near the western “four corners”- where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet.) Some Utah business reacted negatively pointing to the energy and other mineral opportunities lost due to the restrictions from development that come with the national monument designation. Native American tribes, outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists, however, cheered the executive order pointing to the order’s effect in protecting both the natural beauty of the red rock canyons and forested plateaus as well as the cultural significance of the area, which is filled with ancient rock art and cliff dwellings considered sacred by local tribes.

Earlier, on February 3, 2017 Utah governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution of the state legislature urging President Trump to rescind the national monument designation. Unfortunately for the governor and his state, more than just President Trump and the Utah congressional delegation were listening. (Herbert also signed a resolution seeking to rescind the designation of Escalante-Grand Staircase region in Utah as a national monument, which President Clinton authorized in 1996.)


The resolution caused an immediate outcry by Patagonia and others in the outdoor industry stating they would not attend OR unless there was a material change in attitude. Less than a week later Patagonia, citing a “the creation of a hostile environment and blatant disregard for Bears Ears and other public lands,” Patagonia announced it would not attend the summer trade show in Salt Lake City. Others like Arc’teryx, PolarTek and Peak Designs joined the boycott. Further, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard said, in an earlier op-ed piece (“The outdoor industry loves Utah; Does Utah love the outdoor industry?”) on the company’s website, “The outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry, yet the Governor has spent most of his time in office trying to rip taxpayer-owned lands out from under us and hand them over to drilling and mining companies.”


The governor agreed to speak with the industry and hear their concerns. Yet, it is not clear he was listening because shortly after call, Gov. Herbert said, “I guess we’re going to have to part ways,” and then traveled to Washington to lobby the current administration to reconsider or rescind the designation for Bears Ears. Unhappy with the governor’s answers, responses and perceived priorities, the Outdoor Industry Association announced immediately (on February 16) that the 2018 and future shows would be staged outside of Utah.


Notwithstanding the protest by the Outdoor Industry, which appears to have fallen on deaf ears, in April President Trump ordered a review of all 27 national monuments designated over the last 20 years (since 1996). As if the Utah governor’s actions were not enough, Trump’s own executive order directed the Secretary of the Interior to review the Bears Ears designation as well as that for 26 other monuments! While troubling to outdoor recreation industry, history may later see Trump’s executive order as the proverbial “shot heard round the world” – the event that forever changed the industry’s role in the political process.


Having been galvanized by the Utah protest, the industry, again led by Patagonia, REI, the Grand Canyon Trust and others marshaled individuals, businesses, trade organization and friendly politicians to speak up and defend the Bears Ears designation during the public comment period. The Department of the Interior received over a million comments. Former Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, indicated the actual number of comments received were an unprecedented 2.7 million!


While the protest shifted to Washington, D.C., the show went on with few additional companies refusing to participate, but not before the industry became more organized and committed than ever in its history, recognizing its economic strength as it lead perhaps the most vocal protest involving federal lands since the battle to prevent building a dam in the Grand Canyon in 1960. Perhaps not coincidentally, OR opened with a breakfast meeting featuring the release of its an economic report featuring the impact of the outdoor recreation industry in each of the fifty states.


In an industry that is highly focused on sustainability, conservation and reinvesting corporate profits in protecting public lands and related causes, it is likely that politicians and the public will begin to see more muscle being exercised by the outdoor industry. Moreover, since “all politics are local,” the place to have a watchful eye may well be in the state houses as the industry begins to recognize the enormous impact outdoor recreation has on the local economy.

To date, the Bears Ears review continues. Ryan Zinke, Trump appointment as Interior Secretary, has indicated that its not a question of preserving Bears Ears, rather what form that protection should take – preliminarily recommending that the designation be “right-sized,” that multi-use management not be “hindered,” and that the Tribal nations participate in the management of the lands.











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Last modified: February 10, 2018

One Response to :
“Bears Ears – But Who’s Listening”

  1. Pony says:

    Thanks, Bruce, for highlighting an issue of critical importance to those who love the great outdoors and “America’s best idea” (Wallace Stegner, on the National Parks).

    This isn’t just about Bears Ears, folks. This is a threat to the very notion of public land in America.

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