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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

Bad Romance?

Cliven Bundy rides his horse waving the American flag. He’s a Fox News hero who refused to pay fees and fines for illegally grazing his cows on federal lands for 20 years and then participated in an armed standoff with law enforcement, a frightening and fraught encounter for which he’s never been charged.  He’s a cowboy hero, an icon of the rugged individualist, a living piece of the American Dream. Though he fell off his pedestal by blathering racism in the media’s glare, he still commands a lot of sympathy either consciously with right-wing rurals or, worse, unconsciously in the minds of everybody who wants to be, or at least preserve, the American cowboy.

And who doesn’t love the dashing vision of a cowboy, tall in the saddle on his handsome horse, splashes through a sunlit stream as he herds those little dogies along? Methinks, perhaps, the 80 percent of wildlife species that depend on riparian areas, a mere two percent of the land in the intermountain states. Cow-trampled, muddied streams with no overhanging grasses leave these once lush areas with a fraction of the biodiversity they evolved with. The livestock impacts of upland aspen and sagebrush steppes decimate the complexity of the delicate interplay between life and precious water in these drier, more prevalent ecosystems, leaving bare ground that blows away causing even more problems with snowmelt at high elevations. Meanwhile, public lands grazing has cost taxpayers over $1 billion in the last decade, and, as Christopher Ketcham reports in the New Republic this week, livestock are draining the arid West as the historic drought deepens.

Feral Horses

Wild horses! Popular, less destructive icons of the West!

There’s nothing wrong with a myth. It’s only harmful if it supersedes reason in decision-making. And there’s the rub. Though public lands ranchers raise only 3% of the nation’s beef and though they represent only a small fraction of the economies in their states, the livestock industry holds outsized power in the West.  In Utah, county commissioners influence elections of party convention delegates, the folks who determine who makes it to the ballot. Or not. Like, for instance, the popular incumbents Sen. Bob Bennett and Gov. Olene Walker, who both enjoyed big approval ratings even as the party faithful refused to nominate them to the ballot. Ranchers disgruntled by Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service regulators can call Sen. Orrin Hatch to complain–and he’ll respond! By telling the agencies to stifle the enforcing officers or dismiss them. States cut education budgets but lavishly fund departments of agriculture that serve less to protect the public’s food supply than to support agriculture interests, economic and cultural. One of my favorite campaigns in Utah is a series of posters and PSAs that say “If their way of life goes away, what will happen to ours?” (Where’s the save-the-publishers campaign??)

The myth of the rugged, handsome cowboy is not serving us well. Not economically or ecologically. But we need myth. We crave it. We could replace it with a new romance, a new myth that captures the spirit of freedom and space. How about we trade the cowboy for his horse? The BLM

Running free!

Running free!

estimates that there are fewer than 50,000 feral horses on public lands, a trifle compared to the millions of cows grazing at public expense. Of course, ranchers complain that the wild horses are taking the forage from livestock and damaging the landscape–and on that last point the environmental community agrees. On the other hand, tens of thousands of horse lovers advocate passionately for the horses to run free on our landscapes. In 2013, the Utah BLM office received nearly 20,000 letters in support of the nonnative equines. And they are lovely. People love them, and the damage they do is minimal compared to that of livestock on public lands. How about we scrap the cowboy and replace him with the horse?

What Can You Learn From A Coyote?

Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife. The grandeur of Wingate cliffs and the delicacy of a Colorado columbine draw me into wild places, but wild creatures connect me to deserts and mountains with a particularly vivid immediacy and intimacy. Whether I’m startled by a snake rustling fallen leaves or awed by a soaring hawk, I’m thrilled by the lives of creatures so different from me but dependent on the same water, air, and land that I am. When I leave the built environment to engage with the natural environment, I allow for marvel and humility, a glimpse into the intrinsic value of wild places. Or at least wilder places. Here, author Susan Imhoff Bird rides her bike up a Utah canyon to find a wildlife wonderland that ignites her own wild places.

the coyote in my canyon by susan imhoff bird

approaching the final curve before the hill’s crest, the sun is moments from advancing the sky from dawn to day.  particles of the night’s darkness hang in the air and everything—rocky hillsides, trees, the road itself—blurs gently around surfaces and edges and my headlight throws a fat cone of weak light that illumines naught but hovering molecules of night.

nothing is sharply defined, and all is tinted by the watery mutedness and appears mottled green or one of sixteen shades of earth.

when a dust brown creature suddenly appears at the far reach of my vision it shifts from apparition to solidity slowly, my revolving wheels lessening the gap between us and changing fuzz to fur, brown, mottled, four legs, a slender torso, a long and narrow tail.

it is my coyote.  he has crossed the road south to north and disappeared into the tall grass and scrub edging the asphalt. I watch the spot with intensity, wondering if he will wait and watch me pass as he often does.  the steep grade retards my approach and I am still half a dozen yards away when a howl shatters the air.  bark, bark, howl. I see him now, he sits in the sage and cheatgrass, his back to me, and howls.  another bark, and a long howl sent out over the valley opening below him.  the sound dancing on those lingering particles of dawn, dropping on trees and shrubs, falling on leaves, tickling the ears and minds of squirrels and rabbits.

parallel to him, now uphill of him, he howls again, ignoring me, or perhaps serenading me with nonchalant neglect. I pedal, he howls, I reach the top of the climb after his vocalizations have ceased, their reverberations no longer trembling blades of grass. the air is still, and the sun, lifting itself over the furthest eastern mountain, has removed the last vestiges of dawn and what had been soft is now sharp, what was unclear is now illuminated.

this morning’s sighting is my seventh, and each has brought me as much delight as the one before.  it’s an unspoken hope each time I ride, let the coyote cross my path today.  he is curious and, other than the single concert, silent.  for a canine he is surprisingly cat-like, his paws like fog.  he has dashed across the road behind my descending wheels, he has hovered on the side of the road.  he has feinted toward me like a pugilist, then apparently thought better of it and retreated to the shoulder to watch me pass. I’ve been studiously ignored; I’ve been studied as though I’m the first human he’s encountered.  he brings what’s untamed, wild, to my border and dares to cross into my land.

great horned owls hunt in my canyon as the sky releases its deepest ink and the world becomes one of silhouette, their wings spread wide in flight, to scan, to attack. I look to treetops, utility poles, seeking that familiar elliptical shape focused on examination of the shrubs and ground below.  details cloaked, it is shape, silhouette, everything dark against a sky of baltic blue.  porcupines amble and deer startle, bounding up hillsides of scrub oak and balsamroot.  a stretch of road is silent, then the cacophony of bird song reigns for the next mile.  raccoon eyes shimmer between scrubby brush, a rabbit turns tail and runs.  but not a creature is anything like my coyote.

perhaps it is the teeth, its predatory nature, the fact that it is only size that keeps me from being at risk.  or perhaps it’s that he is only evolutionary steps away from being a household pet.  that my mind and heart think dog when he trots across the road or seems to consider interaction.

or maybe it’s the howl.  a howl that send shivers up spines, that declares desires and needs, that energizes air and speaks to all within earshot.

the canyon is not mine, nor the coyote. but at the edge of dawn and day when all is dirt brown and muddy green, I am transported to a world of deepest truth and being by four-legged creatures that leap and amble, bound and jump and trot, and, when all my stars align, occasionally and resonantly, howl.

Reposted from the tao of cycling | susan imhoff bird

Look for Susan’s exploration of the wolf controversy, Howl: Of Woman and Wolf, in May 2015 from Torrey House Press.

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