Dear Ryan Zinke,
I hope you had a great 4th of July.
I spent mine at Bear Ears National Monument. That’s the one that President Obama designated in December, has since been under continuous attack by Republicans, and which you recently recommended be reduced in size (you already know this, I’m just bringing other readers up to speed).
My wife and I hiked over fifty miles, mostly through canyons with rugged terrain and minimal developed infrastructure. We explored Fish and Owl Canyon, Grand Gulch, and the Natural Bridges Loop. The temperatures got close to 100 degrees and the sun was baking us.
This is a pretty typical weekend for us.
What wasn’t typical were the spectacular sites we found in Bear Ears. We saw numerous ancient Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and petroglyphs thought to be more than 900 years old. The region is packed with them and they are truly incredible things to unexpectedly come across while in the wilderness. We treated them with due respect, admired them and left them as we found them.
Incidentally, the Antiquities Act (the law Obama invoked when designating Bear Ears N.M.) was created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 primarily for the protection of at-risk archaeological sites in the southwest. It was a visionary idea and I can’t imagine a more appropriate use of the law.
I’ve actually kept a tally of the total amount of acreage and nautical square miles designated as National Monuments by every American president since Roosevelt.
The take home message: Obama has the greatest area protected, followed by G.W. Bush, followed by Carter, followed by Clinton. Kudos to them. Only three presidents failed to ever use it – Nixon, Reagan, and G.H.W. Bush. It would be wonderful if I didn’t have to add a negative axis to my graph in the coming years (hint hint).
I live near one of the most unique landscapes on Earth. The geology of southern Utah is mind-blowing and the ecological diversity is incredible.
This letter wasn’t written in hopes that you’ll have a change of heart from your original recommendation to reduce the Monument. I’ve already tried that along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans through the Department of the Interior public comment forum. I’m sure that you’ll ignore all of us and do what you want to do.
Actually I’m not sure what it is your administration and the state of Utah wants with this land. They’ve only spoken of vague economic limitations that the designation will impose, but haven’t brought up anything specific. Is it just to keep your options open in case something valuable is discovered underground? Is it to formally undo every last one of Obama’s achievements to satisfy your voters?
In any case, designated or not, if the area currently called Bear Ears National Monument winds up in private hands, if it gets developed for drilling, mining, or any other extractive purposes, or if your decision somehow wrecks any part of this land, I’m going to be noticeably unhappy.
We are recent transplants to Utah, primarily drawn here for its access to public land. I spend the majority of my free time on public lands – this is obvious if you peruse the rest of this website. And I’m not alone.
This message is important not only for you, but also the politicians of Utah. These include but are not limited to Governor Gary Herbert, Senator Orrin Hatch, Congressman Rob Bishop, and State Rep Mike Noel, who in a recent statement referred to environmentalists as tree-huggers and rock-lickers (I’m sure he meant that in an endearing way).
Salt Lake City is slowly filling up with ski bums and dirt bag climbers. Our votes are adding up and our influence is growing. Last month a grass roots campaign managed to raise enough money to allow Park City to purchase the 1,300 acre Bonanza Flat and prevent it from being bought by developers with plans for a resort. A few months before that, the Outdoor Retailer convention decided to leave Utah because of the state government’s position on Bear Ears, a huge economic loss for Salt Lake City. And I think you’ll see how large this movement has become later this month at the “This Land is Our Land” march for public lands (I encourage all politicians to attend this event).
Utah has become the battleground for public lands. You can join us and do some great things for the state. Or you can oppose us, in which case you’ll be hearing back from me soon.
A proud rock-licker
Fish and Owl Canyon
Total mileage: 20
From Kane Gulch Ranger Station, go south. Turn left onto Fish and Owl Rd to the trailhead. Follow signs to Owl Canyon, descend into the canyon and turn left at Fish Canyon. Take Fish Canyon back up, ascend from the canyon and hike across the mesa back to the parking lot.
Grand Gulch/Todie Canyon
Total mileage: 16
From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, cross the road and follow trail into the canyon. Turn left at Todie Canyon and follow this to a dirt road. The dirt road takes you back out to 261. Turn left to return to the ranger station.
Natural Bridges Loop
Total mileage: 10
From the Natural Bridges National Monument Visitor Center, drive to the Bridge View Drive loop. Park at any of the three bridge trail parking lots. Follow the well marked loop and enjoy views of Sipapu, Owachomo, and Kachina Bridges. This is technically Natural Bridges National Monument and while entirely surrounded by Bear Ears, is not considered part of Bear Ears.
BRING LOTS OF WATER