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Saving Our American Legacy

May 23, 2017

Dear Secretary Zinke,

I am a sixth-generation Utahn and proud American, grateful for the national monuments and parks in Utah and throughout our great country. Protecting national monuments preserves our identity as Americans. Our national monuments and public lands and waters tell the patriotic story of our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. I am concerned and disappointed by the executive order that attempts to undermine our national monuments, especially since the effort was pushed by Utah’s congressional delegation, notably Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, who receive support from energy industry and anti-public lands groups. Attempting to roll back protections for national monuments doesn’t reflect Utah or American values of protecting and revering iconic landscapes. Decreasing national monument protection would be ultimately unpatriotic and an affront to America’s great heritage. Please do not allow political dealers to eliminate or shrink our national monuments.

Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah protect priceless treasures visited by scores of Utahns seeking refuge from urban congestion every year. Despite what local politicians argue, the towns near national monuments benefit from monument protections. The communities surrounding Grand Staircase have seen employment increase by 38% and per capita income increase by 30% since that monument’s designation, thanks to visitors from Utah, America, and the world. The 49 businesses of the local Boulder-Escalante Chamber of Commerce unanimously support the monument and depend on its protected beauty, which is far more valuable to local economies than a coal mine or an oil field that send short-term gains to out-of-state and out-of-country investors, leaving industrialized wreckage behind. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geological, paleontological, and scenic treasure unrivaled in the world. The slot canyons, arches, and stunning features of the landscape as well as the peace and wonder they inspire – and the research and learning the paleontological resources have provided – are indeed worthy of and require the landscape-level protection of national monument status.

TimPeterson_BearsEars

Bears Ears – photo credit Tim Peterson

Bears Ears National Monument is another monument gem. It is a textbook example of the priceless historic, cultural, and natural wonders that are protected as national monuments, and it is also the first time the Antiquities Act was used at the request of Native Americans to protect antiquities and landscapes that are sacred to over a dozen Native peoples. Bears Ears National Monument offers the opportunity to acknowledge the sovereignty of Native American Tribes who have suffered cultural and political destruction throughout the founding and developing of the United States. Keeping Bears Ears National Monument and the tribal co-management as directed in the monument proclamation is America’s chance to offer a small recompense for centuries of abuse. Protecting over 100,000 archaeological and cultural sites, Bears Ears National Monument honors the voices of the Navajo, Ute, Hopi, and Zuni leaders who joined together to seek protection of their shared ancestral lands and traditions. Though it is 600,000 acres smaller than the Tribes proposed, Bears Ears National Monument should remain protected as it was designated, permanently.

Secretary Zinke, I know you are aware that the Tribes attempted to work with Reps. Chaffetz and Bishop in their ultimately failed Public Lands Initiative legislation and only sought Antiquities Act protection for Bears Ears after their concerns were ignored and dismissed by Utah’s politicians. The Tribes’ work is an act of healing, and the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument are based on the extensive cultural mapping and traditional knowledge of the Native American Tribes to best protect the thousands of archaeological, cultural, and sacred sites for all people. As the Four Corners area suffers increasing drought amid a changing climate, protecting the wildlife habitat, serenity, and scenic wonders that make up this incredible landscape becomes ever more important. What’s more, the majority of Utahns agree that this area deserves protection, and the boundaries are essentially identical to those included in the legislation introduced by Rep. Bishop, with some similar protections. Only when this legislation ultimately failed was the monument designated, and, there is widespread agreement, even among Utah politicians, that this area deserves protection. Not only is Bears Ears National Monument incredibly worthy of its designation, it is a vital part of the outdoor recreation economy in the state of Utah, protecting some of the best climbing locations in the entire state and country.

Despite what Utah’s congressional delegation asserts, public input and discussions of protections for Bears Ears National Monument have already been robust. In addition to the Department of the Interior receiving public comments and tens of thousands of emails, postcards, and letters throughout 2016, last July, Secretary Jewell held a public meeting in Bluff, UT, that was attended by over 1,400 members of the public, and the majority were in support of this designation. According to recent polling, 80% of western voters support keeping existing national monument protections in place.

An attempt to attack one monument by rolling back protections would be an attack on them all. Sending a signal that protections for our shared history, culture, and natural treasures are not permanent would set a terrible precedent. This would discourage business investment and community growth around all national monuments and establish a dangerous standard, indicating that our history and natural wonders are negotiable.

National monuments have already been shown to be tremendous drivers of the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy, and businesses in gateway communities rely on the permanency of these protections when making decisions about investing in these communities. Navajo writer Andrew Curley points out that “Native communities in the Four Corners area are surrounded by national monuments and have used them effectively to promote infrastructure and tourism we might not otherwise afford.” Navajo/Cayuga writer Kimball Bighorse reminds us that “the dwellings, drawings, and pot sherds sprinkled throughout the area attract looters and exploiters and arguably make Bears Ears a poster child for the stated intent of the Antiquities Act.” Former Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair and Ute Mountain Ute Councilwoman Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk asks everyone “join us in encouraging the spirit of healing.” The treasures housed in America’s national monuments are sources of cultural and spiritual renewal, so important for the health of every citizen – and our country. Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, along with other monuments across the country, should remain protected for future generations to enjoy. They are a gift that belongs to all Americans, a legacy we leave for those who come after.

I am respectfully and firmly opposed to any effort to revoke or diminish America’s national monuments. I urge you to support our public lands and waters and recommend that our current national monuments retain their boundaries as established in their proclamations. I urge you to maintain protections for these all-American landscapes, and honor Americans’ overwhelmingly support for protecting these lands permanently.

Sincerely,

Kirsten J. Allen

Torrey, Utah 84775

Civil Rights to Wilderness: African-Americans Reconnect to America’s Wild Places

The Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act were both signed into law fifty years ago, but the two movements behind the landmark legislation didn’t join efforts in 1964, and real integration between wild places and minority groups remains elusive today. One organization is working to change that. Outdoor Afro reconnects the black community with natural spaces and outdoor recreation through organized events and social media connections. Founder Rue Mapp wants to disrupt the “false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature.” She suggests that with the 50th anniversary of both acts, “we have a chance now to make their real connections come alive today, recognizing the delicate and essential links between people and the wild all around for the betterment of everyone.” However, the disconnect between black people and nature is rooted in part by very real fears. She points out that “in the collaborative efforts around the country to re-invent African American connections to the environment…it is often essential to address fears that linger about the wild. These fears are not only about potential contact with wildlife: there are still perceptions among black folks that one might be susceptible to violence in the cover of the wild.” Consider, for example, the plaintive refrain of Billie Holiday’s haunting Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Adding insult to fear and horror, many people of color are coldly distrusted and even apprehended when they do visit national parks and other wild places, many of which are located in western states with overwhelming white majorities.

How can such a frightening legacy of fear and distrust Outdoor Afrobe overcome? One national park ranger wants to reframe the African-American engagement with earth and dirt and wild as a continuation of the civil rights struggle. Shelton Johnson points out that access to America’s wild places is ultimately about freedom, not just preservation, and he believes securing that access is a critical piece of today’s efforts to secure all Americans’ civil rights. In his book Gloryland, Johnson argues that a relationship with the earth is both possible and essential. He suggests that “visiting the biome of Yellowstone might also mean a chance to reclaim what it means to be Yoruba, Mandingo–or African-American. Whatever you call yourself, it matters little, because it is all the same people, the same earth.”

While the reconnection of black people and wild places is far from done, Outdoor Afro’s Mapp believes that “with a vision of healing, Outdoor Afro and many other organizations [can help] people re-invent connections to natural places both near and far through a variety of peer led activities. One experience at a time, we can replace old fears and reservations about the wilderness with joy, curiosity, and wonder for all ages in our lands.” She argues that despite the divide between the original networks and movements that produced the Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act, “we have a chance now to make their real connections come alive today, recognizing the delicate and essential links between people and the wild all around for the betterment of everyone.” The question she asks is “Where shall we go together in nature from here?”

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