Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Monumental Disaster Follow Up

Back in December I (almost literally) threw up a blawg post about Trump's big announcement to slash the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments after being a bit distraught by going to the protest outside the capitol while the president was inside with Secretary Zinke and all of Utah's leadership backslapping each other over their victory.  Since then a few things have happened:

  • Trump's "gift" to Senator Hatch of monument restrictions that he hoped would result in the Senator deciding that he would serve yet again to support the president went unrequited with Hatch announcing his retirement, clearing the way for on-again/off-again Trump critic/sycophant Mitt Romney to almost assuredly announce (on Feburary 15) to run to take his Hatch's place (but that didn't stop Trump from using - and conveniently modifying -  Hatch's quote that Trump "could be the best president ever"  this week)
  • After Patagonia ran its now-infamous "The President just stole your land" ad Rob Bishop's House Natural Resources committee made the unprecedented move to use its official twitter account to lambaste Patagonia, an action that raised some eyebrows, at least according to the former director of the US Office of Government Ethics 
  • Ryan Zinke did the same thing - also on an official government account - towards Patagonia, a private company.  
  • My congressman Chris Stewart conveniently introduced legislation to create a new national park in the Escalante area that - if passed, would upend the concept of national park management as we've known it (the Salt Lake Tribune's opinion of that here). 
  • we have come to find out that the new Bears Ears boundaries conveniently got drawn along the lines of uranium claims that were drawn by a Canadian uranium factory (here's an article in the NY times:
And most importantly, my blawg post got a comment! (all too rare, in my notso-humble opinion).  Layne, a friend from the local enduro-geek crowd, commented as thus:

Tom, I'm having a hard time seeing how the BE downsizing is so harmful. It has reverted back to whatever status the land was before the monument. Zinke is a off-putting, as are many of the other local politicians like Herb and Orrin.

My experience is that many of these amazing places fly under the radar until great status is given to them (Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, etc.) Then they become an utter junk show. Anyway. I'm optimistic that the lands will largely remain the same even if they don't have the same status they did last year."

and followed up with this:

Hopefully, that comment doesn't come across as too argumentative, I don't like being caught up in the rhetoric from the politicians or the hippies at Patagonia. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. 

and then, importantly, this:

Let's go skiing! 

Layne's comment was legit for sure, and it got me thinking, and I prepared a response to him that I decided to turn into yet another blawg post.  Here it is:

Hey Layne

Thanks for the comment; I always like getting them, even if they are few and far between!

Your question is a good one.  I have often said that national parks are sort of the sacrificial lambs of public lands; lure all of the tourists there to keep them out of wilder places, with the price being that they are absolutely overrun.  Unfortunately, they do take up some of the best places (not many unrecognized places as awesome as Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc).  That said, canyonlands is a bit of an exception; regular tourists can’t really figure that place out, and it’s far from overrun due to the lack of infrastructure and the wildness/remoteness of the terrain.  And it seems to me that to the general public, “National Monument” is quite a bit different than “national park”; having visited GSENM a few times over the last coupla years it has really benefitted the local economies and infrastructure has grown to accommodate increased visitation, but it must be at least sustainable growth because the Escalante city council and mayor ignored their local business owners in 2015 when they declared an economic state of emergency, even as home prices weree/are going up, there are no homes available to buy, and they recently built a new school, even as grazing fees that should be ~$150/head/year adjusted for inflation are only $22.  And Zinke ver conveniently ignored the local businesses on his spring tour; even the Boulder/Escalante chamber of commerce was snubbed!  (I went into that in more detail in this article for the Utah Adventure Journal)

But to your point of “what’s the difference?” there actually isn’t that much, with some big exceptions.  Grazing is still allowed in national monuments (something that NM opponents conveniently forgot in their arguments, and the effects of grazing are pretty devastating (all it takes is a walk from terrain that naturally lends itself to grazing to that which does not, like a big pourover ledge in a drainage).  The big exception is drilling, and what I find sort of offensive is that despite the market-based depression in coal prices and the automation in the coal industry (that prevents coal miners from getting fatal and awful black lung disease; that link is a haunting story) and the fact that there are fewer coal workers nationwide than there are Arby’s employees that they are opening up those lands to mining. If you’ve been up around Dead Horse Point lately there’s an amazing number of  natural gas mines going in up there and big new roads to service them with big trucks, and a few years ago when we paddled the White River south of Vernal the tablelands between the river and Vernal were a huge maze of new fat paved roads that are  - to my knowledge – mostly abandoned due to the price drop in natural gas that has left Vernal gasping economically after its boomtime.  And the BLM has historically been a far-worse steward of the public lands than the National Park system with allowing environmental degradation at the expense of the short term economic successes of private companies getting really cheap leases on public lands.   Just today is an article in the paper talking about this: 

That said, I did kinda cringe when I saw the Patagonia byline of “The president just stole your land” because it was factually false (it did go back to federal land, just under the auspices of a different agency) and opened themselves and the entire community to getting rightfully lambasted by Zinke, even if it just means going to a lower level of protective/conservation management.  That said, using the official house natural resources committee account to send out a tweet insulting a private company is  - to my knowledge  - unprecdented, and Chris Stewart’s very-quick follow up national park proposal that seeks to fundamentally change the way national parks are managed showed a fair bit of shrewd manuvering in the leadup to the announcements.  

Additionally, I know very little about the concept of protection of artifacts and such, but what I do know I learned from this:

And the residents of San Juan county haven’t really proved themselves to be very good stewards of native antiquities, with the town of Blanding getting torn apart some years ago by a antiquities trafficking scandal that resulted in a federal sting and the suicide of a well-liked town doctor (Here’s a comprehensive article about it in the LA Times) 

I think it’s pretty clear that with the exception of Rebecca Benally who tries to speak for the entire native population as a member of the San Juan county council despite the fact that the Russell Begaye – the president of the Navajo nation - disagrees with her,  the entirety of the five native nations with stakes there are really upset about this and are driving the lawsuits against the dept of interior.  After all, why would the native nations expect the US federal government to follow through on their promises of protection?  

As always in heated political debates in a divisive bipartisan environment the truth lies somewhere in between the extreme hyperbole on both sides.  In this case, I am far closer to one side, if for no other reason than I was formally one of those “hippies” you mention while working for Patagonia in the late 90’s (attaching socially derogatory labels like “hippies” and – in my case - “rednecks’” rarely gets the side referenced to even listen to an argument, much less come over to your side).  

It’s definitely complicated enough that it takes a good depth of knowledge to understand the details, and Brian Maffly – as the public lands reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune – has done a great job at objective reporting of this issue, and goes into it in detail on this interview., and for a good 17 minute overview here is a good video:

And indeed Layne, let's go skiing!  Clearly there's plenty of fodder for skin track conversations.....

1 comment:

  1. That was a helpful perspective. Thanks for your objective insights.