In Defense of Public Lands

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”

-Edward Abbey

Yes, I know it has been a while since I have written in this dear blog of mine. With the glorious holidays having finally vomited thru, taxes done, and other obnoxious chores and errands dwindling down, I am thrilled to get down to the task of finalizing the preparations for the Hayduke Trail.  With the launch date just under six weeks away, this blog is about to pick up precipitous momentum.

First off, I will be beginning this journey with a heavy heart.  Sometime in December, president Trump mandated to shrink the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalente National Monument (GSENM), both in Utah, by 46%.  Both these national monuments were established by presidential proclamation using the Antiquities Act of 1906, with GSENM protected by Bill Clinton in 1996 and BENM by Barak Obama in 2016.  Before I continue and in case you don’t know, let me give a short lesson of what exactly the Antiquities Act is.

To make a long story short, if you at any point in your life have ever been to any National Monument or  Park in the United States of America, you can probably thank the Antiquities Act for that.  The act was passed by congress and signed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.  It essentially gives any US president the power to designate and create national monuments from federal lands in order to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.  Needless to say, this Act has been used countless times by several presidents throughout the history of the United States of America, and as a matter of fact, many national monuments have ended up becoming national parks, with Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Saguaro National Park serving as perfect examples.  Yes, Grand Canyon, one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World was at first a National Monument, having being created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

It was not until 2003 that I even knew that GSENM even existed.  It was that same year that I ventured out on a multi day road trip to explore the other famous National Parks of Southern Utah (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands).  When I discovered that former president Bill Clinton had established GSENM in 1996, I internally gave him a big thank you. My gratitude grew exponentially after subsequently exploring that monument on many occasions and trips.  That place is truly a gem.  One of my favorite trips ever in GSENM was a 9 day self supported packrafting-backpacking-mountain biking trip.  I had always dreamed of kayaking the full 75 mile length of the Escalante River.  It was not until the advent of pack-rafts that that journey would become feasible for me.  To make a long story short, I ended up pack-rafting 75 miles in six days, backpacking 17 miles in 1.5 days, and mountain biking 41 miles in 1.5 days, completing a 133 mile self supported loop in 9 days.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdJWE4JehtA and https://vimeo.com/144086543

If my love affair for Southern Utah hasn’t become apparent to you, perhaps it will so when I elaborate on my journeys to the Bears Ears area.  My first notion of the existence of the landmark known as Bears Ears sprouted one day as I was driving on Cedar Mesa, making my way somewhere to explore in the area. I don’t exactly remember where I was going at the time, wether it was on my way to Hall’s Crossing in Lake Powell for a kayaking trip, a backpacking trip in the Grand Gulch, or on my way to Canyonland’s Maze District. Either way, once you climb over the Moqui Dugway from Mexican Hat, Utah onto Ceder Mesa, it is difficult not to notice two tall prominent mesas way out north that look just like a pair of a bear’s ears.  It is such a prominent and identifying landmark, really hard to miss, that for me has always been a navigational point, a point of reference in essence.  I think it was not until May of 2013 that myself and two other friends, Ray and Pete, actually drove right in between the Bear’s Ears in order to make our way to a trailhead into Dark Canyon Wilderness for a 4 day backpacking trip.

Needless to say, when I found out that former President Barak Obama, using the Antiquities Act, proclaimed Bears Ears National Monument in December of 2016, I was thrilled and ecstatic. Having explored the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, I can personally attest to the need for it’s protections.  I have been to the Indian Creek area; heck, I floated Indian Creek in my pack-raft all the way to Colorado River.  I have explored the depths of Dark Canyon Wilderness and the archeological ruins of the Grand Gulch and Butler Wash.  These public lands need to be protected.  Furthermore, it meant even more so to me because of who was involved convincing the Obama Administration in creating the monument. The beauty of the establishment of Bears Ear National Monument was that it was a combined group effort of five Native American tribes: Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. However, it was not only the five tribes that joined forces, it was also the outdoor recreation community, especially the climbing community that joined forces with the five tribes to convince President Obama to use the Antiquities Act to create the monument, since Congress would not bother on seeking protections for the Bears Ears area.

However, federal lands in Utah seem to always be a point of contention. To put it bluntly, Utah politicians and legislators seem to have always hated the fact of how much federal lands exist in Utah. If it were up to them, they would rather own every single acre in the state of Utah so that they can sale them off to extraction industries.  Essentially, Utah state politicians and legislators convinced president Trump to get rid of as much as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for possibly personal gain.  However, is that even legal.  That seems to be a direct legal challenge to the Antiquities Act. I am sure Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave.  Needless to say, legal battles are ensuing with Trumps December 2017 mandates.

So what is the point of this blog entry.  Well, as Edward Abbey said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” And in my opinion, it needs more defenders, especially now more so than ever.  I am dedicating my Hayduke Trail Thru Hike to Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I here declare that I will be raising funds to help in the fight to protect these National Monuments.  My goal is to raise $8000 for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), a non-profit committed to protecting Southern Utah’s wild landscapes.  Follow me on this blog as I travel thru these lands and see why they need protecting.  Needless to say, there are several organizations committed to protecting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.  Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council, Access Fund, and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Bears Ears Coalition are several of the conservation organizations suing the Trump Administration in order to protect GSENM and BENM.  Donating to any of these organizations will help. Here are there links if you wish to help.  I truly help you will. And, of course, if it any time you need advice or recommendations on where to explore in the Colorado Plateau, please ask me. I will gladly oblige.

https://www.facebook.com/donate/145359192751061/10155953566766544/

https://suwa.org

http://bearsearscoalition.org

https://www.accessfund.org

https://www.grandcanyontrust.org

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