So now what? Since President Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument I have been asked almost daily what people can do to get involved, or even to understand what the heck is going on in south east Utah. Before I dig into some of these ideas, I think that its important to remember that this is about a place that deserves and demands respect, protection and education access to the public regardless of the lines drawn or erased on a map. It is my hope that everyone remembers for just a moment what has not changed before or after the politics of a National Monument–that the sacred places are all still there, the hiking routes are fair game for anyone willing to use their two feet and the areas removed from the Monument are still public lands.
Despite the many positives we can focus on (which is how I choose to live my life—anger does little good) the changes obviously make Bears Ears increasingly vulnerable to the effects of other public land uses like mining, drilling and cattle ranching. These always have and will continue to coexist with conservation and recreation on our public lands (and in fact existed in the original Bears Ears NM boundaries as well). Of course careless and greed driven decisions on how to manage our public lands can and will have devastating effects on the environment, historical and sacred sites and ability for the public to enjoy them.
The future of Bears Ears National Monument will now be tied up in court and heated lawsuits for years to come. Conservation groups, tribal alliances and even outdoor big business corporations will collectively pool their resources to fight against the debatable ability of a President to make such a drastic cut on a Monument which directly pushes back against the Antiquities Act. For the average American, but if you’re reading this I doubt you are anything but average, there is no straightforward answer and its easy to wonder what effect, if any, our actions have on the outcome. This is where we must think collectively, if everyone did something, even small, imagine…..
I’m going to stop rambling. I don’t care what your motives for getting involved are. I do not care if we completely agree or see eye to eye about the issue. Heck, you might even be against the Monument but still wish to get involved in the protection of an incredible wilderness area. Or maybe you still aren’t sure what exactly is going on and want to study up before making a decision. I have sourced the following ideas by some of the most incredible and caring minds working tirelessly on this case. There is truly something for everyone here—whether you choose to make the effort to travel and volunteer, donate money or dig deeper into understanding the issue so you can be a beacon of knowledge for others around you that have questions you will have made a difference.
- Study up and visit.
The best way to make an informed choice about helping out in this arena is to understand what you are “working for”. Whether you plan to go to Bears Ears or not understanding the region in terms of terrain, climate, wildlife, public lands boundaries (BLM, Wilderness, Forest Service), uses (cattle ranching, mining, drilling), history and prehistory is an excellent starting point. Fortunately this can be done from anywhere! Both High Country News and Outside Magazine online frequently post up to date content and articles about the issue and its many facets. Shameless plug—The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes offers all of this information, along with a critical background breakdown of the history of National Monuments in relation to the current events. I chose to write the book in such a way that it can obviously be used as a tool to go physically explore Bears Ears, but it is also a literary tour through the area for those who cannot go. The route descriptions, photographs and maps are intended to detail what it is actually like in the area, get your bearings and understand the significance of the cultural sites and wildlife along the way. Of course, if you are able to make the effort to get out to this corner of South East Utah that above all will give you the greatest understanding of the magnitude and significance of the 1.35 million acres we are discussing.
Lawsuits are the primary focus of ALL groups and parties looking to return Bears Ears to its original boundaries. No one group or lawsuit will have the power to change this on its own, but a collective stack of cases and lawsuits WILL carry tremendous clout. Consider making a donation to Utah Dine Bikeyah, UTE PAC, Wilderness Society and Access Fund who are all putting forth a tremendous effort to take this to court. It is important to note that the tribes aren’t getting nearly as much established money as conservation groups and you donation will go major lengths to help the Bears Ears Coalition, Utah Diné Bikéyah, UTE PAC, Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
- Voice your opinion
Write a letter to your representatives. Yes, with pen and paper. Do it. It’s simple, won’t take tons of your time and sends a message to our elected officials that the American public will not sit idly behind a TV screen and watch decisions we are not in favor of go down. An even more direct way to have your stance heard in relation to Bears Ears and public lands is to write a letter to the Forest Service regarding Forest Plans. Periodically the Forest Service sits down to take a look at how the land is being managed and what changes need to be made going forward. Public opinion is a major component of this. Elizabeth Townley, who works for the Utah Forest Service Region 4 (which includes Bears Ears) and hosts the podcast Outlandish about public lands explains, “One of the best ways is to get involved with the agencies that manage them at a local or regional level and develop relationships with the local decision makers.” The Manti La Sal National Forest (which comprises the Abajo Mountains and parts of Elk Ridge in Bears Ears) is up for a revision that will affect the next 20 years of policy and land use. This is a critical opportunity for you to get involved and shape critical public land policy for the next two decades.
Public lands need public hands more than ever right now. Whether its volunteering for a trail clean up, attending town/public meetings, assisting with outreach and other related activities volunteering your time and/or physical presence will make the biggest and most immediate impact of all. To get some more concrete ideas I suggest subscribing to Utah Dine Bikeyah which according to UTE PAC director Robert Lucero will be, “very active in terms of meetings, outreach and activities for the public to get involved with.” There is also a volunteer section that allows you to propose and offer services. Archaeologist RE Burrillo also suggests that concerned citizens get involved with Wilderness Volunteers inc. or Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah.
Have another idea of your own? I want to hear it! You can share it in the comments below along with any questions you have about the content in this article or about Bears Ears in general. I’m off the grid most of the time but I will do my best to address questions and comments that can offer the most good for Bears Ears.