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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

The Great Western Land Grab: Ad Nauseum and Funded by You

Which of these things is not like the other?

1) “The ultimate objective…is to liquidate all public ownership of grazing land and forest land in the United States…The immediate objectives make this attempt one of the biggest land grabs in American history…The plan is to get rid of public lands altogether, turning them over to the states, which can be coerced as the federal government cannot be, and eventually to private ownership. This is your land we are talking about.”

2) “The West as a whole is guilty of inexplicable crimes against the land.”

3) “Since its inception in 2012, the [American Lands Council] has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states.”

Answer: though they all sound ripped from today’s headlines,  only the last one is from this century.

ugly drilling land

The first quote appeared in Harper’s nearly 70 years ago. For twenty years, writer, historian, critic, activist Bernard DeVoto wrote a column, The Easy Chair, for the venerable magazine, and by the time this passage from “The West Against Itself” was published in 1947, DeVoto had already played an instrumental role in converting a land-grab fever into the 1946 formation of the Bureau of Land Management, thus preventing a potential sell-off of the West. It wasn’t the first time ranchers, energy interests, and developers had demanded private ownership of public lands, and it wouldn’t be the last.

The second statement is from an essay written for The Atlantic Monthly nearly thirty years later by DeVoto’s protege, Wallace Stegner, who spent his long and distinguished career writing about America and advocating for the protection of the West. His “Wilderness Letter” of 1960 ranks with works by John Muir and Henry David Thoreau in the conservation canon and was used to introduce the 1964 Wilderness Act in Congress. Despite his successful influence in establishing one of the most effective conservation laws in America, Stegner remained frustrated with the culture, practices, and mythos of West, and in this 1964 article, “Born a Square,” Stegner exhorted the West to “take a hard look at itself and acknowledge some things that the myths have consistently obscured”: it is politically reactionary, ruthless, and exploitative. True fifty years ago and true today.

This last frightening scenario was reported last week by Matt Lee-Ashley, a former communications director for the Department of the Interior who now follows public lands, energy, and environmental policy for the Center for American Progress. Lee-Ashley points out that the recent attention on public lands policy in the wake of Cliven Bundy’s refusal to obey court orders to remove his cattle from sensitive public lands is only the latest episode in the the West’s ongoing conflict about what wild lands are for. But the funding mechanisms behind today’s campaign to turn over federal lands to states or the highest bidders–which ultimately amount to the same thing–are staggeringly insidious, powerful, and frightening. The Koch brothers and ALEC have helped the American Lands Council extract more than $200,000 in taxpayer money from 42 mostly rural counties in nine Western states to “advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging,” Lee-Ashley asserts at ThinkProgress.org. Of course, the state of Utah is adding even more taxpayer funding to the extractor-fueled greed: the Republican legislature has already spent more than $500,000 to study a proposed takeover of federal land and has set aside an another $3 million to fight the federal government in court.

The crusade by special interests to wrest public wild lands from public ownership is as old as American statehood in the West. What’s new is that Western taxpayers are helping to pay for this effort to enrich the few at the cost of the many. Somehow, I don’t think DeVoto or Stegner would be surprised.

Am*zon: The Smooth Brome Grass of Your Local Economy

Have you seen your favorite nonprofits urging you to join Am*zon Smiles: You Shop Am*zon Gives program? Sign up, and your favorite public radio station, environmental organization, homeless shelter, you-name-it will receive a percentage of every purchase you make at Am*zon, at no additional cost to you. Seems pretty win-win. And so feel-good. But don’t let the smile fool you: here be dragons.

First of all, the contribution the selected nonprofits get is small. Tiny, really. It sounds great to have a portion of your next order of printer paper going to your favorite children’s hospital, but only 0.5 percent of each purchase goes to the designated nonprofit. That means if you wanted to give $50, you’d have to spend $10,000 through Am*zonSmile. Which means $10,000 to Am*zon, $50 to your charity. Who’s the winner here?

Second, the donations are made by the Am*zonSmile Foundation, not you, so one of the biggest companies on earth gets a tax deduction rather than you. Now, that may not be the worst thing in the world. Tax deductions aren’t the most important reason people give, and big isn’t by definition always bad. I certainly don’t begrudge Bill and Melinda Gates their tax benefits that result from their education and public health efforts around the globe. But Am*zon’s market share is so big in some sectors that it is changing local and industry landscapes, which comes with its own consequences.

Third, while signing up for the program can give would-be givers a charitable, warm fuzzy feeling, doing so may actually reduce overall giving. Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found that “if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on.” While this study focused on social media, the similarity between a “like” and choosing a charity through Am*zonSmile is not insignificant. While the program may help people be more charitable in theory, it may make folks less charitable in reality.

Finally, nonprofits promoting Am*zonSmile can inadvertently end up hurting their own communities. For instance, this week, a public radio station in Grand Junction, Colorado, urged listeners to sign up for the program, thus giving free advertizing to its local businesses’ biggest–and most dangerous–competitor. Grand Junction is fortunate to have some terrific bookstores including Grand Valley Books and Out West Books, and independent stores like these are on the front lines of Am*zon’s march toward being, indeed, The Everything Store. By steering business away from these hometown businesses, the public radio station manages to both injure important friends in the community and deprive itself of donations from local business owners who depend on their local customer base. Seems much more effective to ask those stores for a $50 donation rather than wait for $10,000 in designated Am*zonSmile sales. That’s win-win.

Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, Durango, Reno, Prescott–like other cities Mark and I love, these all have thriving independent bookstores, which invigorate the cultures and economies of their lucky communities. Booksellers at Maria’s Bookshop, Sundance Music and Books, and Peregrine Book Company are terrific champions of Torrey House Press books, and we The Salt Lake City area boasts a half-dozen indie bookstores, each with a slightly different focus and often different customers. The stores employ well over a hundred employees between them, adding to local economic activity in numerous ways, and authors from near and far come to read, sharing ideas and stories that stimulate intellectual life. Without these bookstores, Salt Lake’s economy would be flatter, its cultural landscape less diverse. It would be a much less vibrant and attractive place to live.

There’s no question that Am*zon has mastered delivering just about anything faster and more cheaply than anyone. It has invested staggering amounts of money and astonishing engineering talent to do so. Fast and cheap is expensive, but it’s good customer service, and Am*zon is committed to that. So good that it can be hard to see the harm. But single-minded efficiency often comes at a cost we might not be willing to pay if we could see all its outcomes. For example, back in the 1880s, the West was introduced to one of its best growing, most productive grasses, one that state and federal land managers still plant in forests and deserts around the West to benefit public lands livestock growers. Much like the Kentucky bluegrass gracing front yards everywhere, smooth brome grass has a strong and elegant rhizomatous root system and a prolific seed cycle that easily take over plant communities that once boasted a variety of native bunch grasses and wildflowers, with pollinators buzzing about, stimulating the food chain. But smooth brome is a great forage producer, and a big meadow of it hardly looks like a smokey factory or dull, forgettable strip mall. Alas, in the arid and semi-arid West, what it really is, though, is a biodiversity destroyer, a horticultural monopolizer. Where you could have this: Image you eventually end up with what is essentially a single-species monopoly, like a Kentucky bluegrass lawn. I like lawn just fine, but I’d hate to have it everywhere, and I don’t want to be responsible for helping it take over the landscape.

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