Why the fight to save Bears Ears National Monument matters so much

There is a growing concern among conservationists that President Trump’s administration does not have the environment on their agenda.

President Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who sued (or was involved with suing) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 14 times, to run the EPA.

Since then, Pruitt has been confirmed to run the EPA, and rollbacks of climate change policies and environmental protection regulations have begun. The White House’s initial 2018 budget has proposed reducing the EPA’s budget $2.1 billion while also firing 3,000 employees.

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These are glaring signs that the environment could be in big trouble. And it has magnified the fight to keep 1.35 million acres of federal land in Utah designated as Bears Ears National Monument. At the end of 2016, President Obama gave Bears Ears the national monument designation. Utah legislators were angered by this, believing that the lands should be in the state’s control.

Bears Ears National Monument is certainly worth fighting for. Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution earlier this year that asks the Trump administration to rescind the national monument designation and leave the land in the control of the state. This has sent shockwaves through the outdoor industry, with Patagonia leading the way as defenders of Bears Ears National Monument.

“Bears Ears National Monument is a sacred home for Native Americans, a world-class location for rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts and a mecca for archaeologists,” notes Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s chief executive officer.

“But it is also a target for looters, mining and energy companies and elected officials who want to privatize and develop the nation’s public lands. It is our hope that this film [project] will help to defend this national monument by bringing it to life and spurring action to protect this American treasure.”

Patagonia has led the way by insisting that the Outdoor Industry Association pull the Outdoor Retailer show out of Utah, which they have. OIA’s official statement on the subject is such:

“Despite Utah's robust outdoor recreation opportunities, elected officials, in Utah from Governor Herbert and the state legislature to its congressional delegation, have all actively embraced the idea of transferring America’s public lands to the state. A move, that in many states, has already resulted in the outright sale or restricted access to the very public lands that have provided hunting, angling, hiking, skiing and camping to generations of people seeking to skirt the urban hustle for the outdoors – a uniquely American experience.”

Playing the role of major activist, Patagonia has also set up a webpage to keep citizens updated on issues relating to Bears Ears, hosted a phone-a-thon to call elected officials and just this week launched a series of interactive 360-degree films to highlight the significance of the Bears Ears region.

Hosted at bearsears.patagonia.com, the 10 short films give an immersive experience through storytelling by Native American tribal leaders and outdoor athletes who cherish the region. The films will also be shown at various Patagonia retail locations in a North American tour throughout March.

Trail Running in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia

The hopes are that they ignite a nationwide conversation about the importance of keeping public lands in public hands, concluding with a call-to-action to new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him to stand up for public lands and defend Bears Ears National Monument.

“We joined forces with conservationists, tribal leaders and outdoor enthusiasts and got to work on making sure this place was protected for future generations and not exploited by the fossil fuel industry,” Patagonia’s PR/Communications Manager Tessa Byars told GrindTV.

“This film project is a result of four-year relationship with the region and its people and is by no means the end of the road of Patagonia’s relationship with Bears Ears National Monument – we will be engaged in protecting this special place for as long as it takes.”

RELATED: Utah Governor refuses to budge on public land dispute

The outcome of the Bears Ears battle could set a dangerous precedent that could open a flood of federal lands being released to states, which could lead to the privatization of these lands. Just last month Maine’s Governor asked the Trump administration to rescind the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

“We hope the new administration will demonstrate support for public lands — owned by all Americans — and reject Gov. Herbert’s reckless and cynical proposals,” Byars said.

“It is dangerous to have protected lands like this land in the hands of the state. [It] opens it up to drilling, mining and more. Without federal tax money supporting federal lands, the places we all love to recreate in are greatly at stake,” Byars continued. “Sadly, the only scenario in which land transfer makes economic sense is one in which the states sell the land off to extractive industries. It’s a bleak scenario.”

Patagonia sees the Bears Ears fight as the bigger fight for what this administration decides to do with our public lands. Will they protect it or will they hand it over to states who don’t have the luxury of operating on a major deficit like the federal government, therefore having to sell the land?

Bears Ears National Monument at night. Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia

It will take all citizens who care about the state of our natural places to push harder than ever.

Sign petitions, make phone calls, send post cards, attend rallies, donate money, volunteer and vote with your dollar,” urges Byars.