Dear Secretary Zinke…

[Edited to add: this is a draft of my public comment on “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996.” Comments may be submitted at the following site until May 26, 2017 for Bears Ears National Monument, and until July 10, 2017 for all other monuments under review: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001 ]

America’s public lands, including national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906 [1], exemplify so much of the diversity and character that make our country wonderful. They provide places for every resident and visitor to experience wilderness and learn about the history, prehistory, and science associated with the land. They also have great environmental value, providing habitats for endangered and threatened species and helping supply clean air and water for millions.

In addition to their cultural and ecological importance, public lands (including national monuments) are engines of economic opportunity through their variety of regulated uses, from grazing to outdoor recreation. Data from 2013 show that the outdoor recreation industry contributed over 6 million jobs and almost $650 billion to the U.S. economy in that year [2], and a robust system of protected public lands supports and sustains this industry.

For these reasons, I strongly oppose any reduction in the size or protections of the national monuments under review as per Executive Order 13792 of April 26, 2017.

I would like to advocate in particular for the two national monuments in Utah that are under review, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Both monuments include significant American Indian cultural and historical sites. Local tribes had been asking for the designation of Bears Ears National Monument for many years. Continuing the protection of this land would be in keeping with the stated mission of the Department of the Interior as an agency that “supports Indian self-determination to ensure that tribes have a strong voice in shaping federal policies that directly impact their ability to govern themselves and provide for the safety, education and economic security of their citizens” [3]. My experience of these lands has included the cultural enrichment of encountering petroglyphs and rock dwellings and becoming inspired to learn more about regional history and the current status of Native people across the country.

Outdoor recreation in these national monuments, particularly Escalante, was very important to me growing up in Utah. Starting when I was very young, my family would often drive down to Moab, Torrey, Monument Valley, or somewhere off the beaten track in desert or mountains, and spend a long weekend camping, hiking, rock-hounding, and mountain biking. The wild landscapes of Utah have a special place in my heart, as I know they do for many others. I have attached a few photos from a camping trip in the Escalante region about ten years ago: the view of sunrise at our camp, a composite panorama of a nearby river cutting through a redrock canyon (this was before smartphones), and our dog, Tiger, guarding our campsite from the only road for miles around. These journeys strengthened my relationships with my family, built my resilience and self-reliance, and inspired a deep appreciation of natural beauty that I carry with me as a scientist, a citizen, and a human being.

Once done, damage to historical/archaeological/cultural sites and to wilderness by development or overuse can never be fully reversed. In the words of Edward Abbey, meditating on a journey down the Colorado River near its confluence with the Escalante River: “the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see” [4]. It is the responsibility of the Department of the Interior to preserve the special places of this country, from the Yosemite to Yellowstone to Bears Ears and Escalante.

Sources:

[1] American Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 USC 431-433. Accessed via National Park Service website on 5/20/17, https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/anti1906.htm

[2] “Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.” National Wildlife Federation, 2013. PDF available at https://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Wildlife/Tribal-Lands/NWF_PublicLands_Final_HighRes.ashx

[3] “Tribal Nations,” U.S. Department of the Interior website, accessed 5/20/17, https://www.doi.gov/tribes

[4] Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness.” Touchstone, New York, 1990. p. 167

camp sunrise 2
Sunrise on a family camping trip in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
composite escalante river
This was a real accomplishment for an amateur photographer (Dad) in the pre-smartphone days.
camp sentry
Tiger watching the road to our camp.
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