There are over 100 National Monuments in the United States. These National Monuments offer a wide array of outdoor recreation opportunities and protect unique landscapes and ruins. Currently twenty-seven of these Monuments (twenty-two land and five marine) are under review. Commenting has opened today and over 2,000 comments have already been received by the Department of the Interior as of 1 p.m. MDT. Here is a brief look at two of the most controversial National Monuments under review and the opportunities they hold for outdoor recreation.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante has been controversial since it was first proclaimed a National Monument by President Bill Clinton on September 18, 1996. The Monument, located in southern Utah, is over 1.8 million acres in size, nearly 800,000 of which overlap with various fossil fuel basins containing oil, gas, or coal. The fossil fuel industry and the state of Utah have not been shy about their interest in these deposits. The Monument is a particular thorn-in-the-side to some due to the perceived slight which occurred when President Clinton signed the Monument into law in a ceremony held in Arizona, never stepping foot in Utah. This controversy, however, does not distract from the vast natural vistas and recreation opportunities in Grand Staircase. The Monument’s managing agency, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), lists the following as recreation opportunities among others:
- Hiking & Backpacking
- River running
- Mountain Biking
The Monument is also reputed to hold the most extensive network of slot canyons in Utah, a canyoneer’s dream. The National Monument has a unique management plan which allows for Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use in some sections, while keeping other parts of the Monument quiet and pristine for long-distance hikers. While mountain-biking is only allowed on “established roads” the Monument is filled with remote old mining roads for the two-wheel adventurer. The climbing may leave much to be desired for anything less than the most seasoned choss-hounding desert rat but retains a following nonetheless. Due to the large amount of fossil fuels overlapping this National Monument, a recision or reduction of acreage would potentially revert the area back to undesignated BLM land, known as “Public Land.” This land designation not only allows for mining and drilling, but those leases are being actively pushed by the current administration.
Bears Ears National Monument
As the most recent, most controversial, and currently most talked about National Monument, Bears Ears needs little introduction. Located in southern Utah, Bears Ears covers over 1.3 million acres over red rock desert. Similar to Grand Staircase, the area overlaps significantly with fossil fuel basins containing coal, oil, or gas. Estimates put 90% of the National Monument as sitting on potential reserves. Bears Ears also contains over 100,000 archaeological sites and vast recreation opportunities. Bears Ears is an mecca for outdoor recreation and unique in that its Proclamation specifically mentions outdoor recreation as a resource to be protected in the National Monument. Climbers know the areas of Indian Creek, Valley of the Gods, Comb Ridge, and others as well. These areas draw thousands of rock climbers in the spring and fall each year to test themselves on unique desert tower features and endless splitter cracks. Bears Ears also encompasses portions of the San Juan River, a beautiful paddle through petroglyph covered canyons. Overall, Bears Ears offers a myriad of opportunity including unique combinations of outdoor sports as seen here. These opportunities have brought giants of the outdoor industry, specifically Patagonia, Inc., in to the fight. As with Grand Staircase, a revision in the boundaries or complete rescission of the National Monument could open large areas of pristine outdoor recreation to oil and gas exploration.
The time to act is now. Public commenting begins today. Comments specific to Bears Ears must be submitted by May 26, 2017. Comments specific to other National Monuments must be submitted by July 10, 2017. That means you only have two weeks to have your voice heard about Bears Ears and less than two months about the other National Monuments. The list of National Monuments under review can be found here: List of National Monuments. Whether you enjoy climbing in Bears Ears, paddling in the Upper Missouri River Breaks, or photographing wild flower blooms in Carrizo Plain, make sure your voice is heard.
How do I comment?
Option 1- click the “COMMENT HERE” link above and then click the blue “Comment Now” button on the right side of the page. The process is easy and painless.
Option 2- Go to http://www.regulations.gov and search “DOI-2017-002.” This will take you to the same spot as the linked page above.
Option 3- Write or type your comment and mail it to the following address:
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
What do I say?
Whatever you feel!! Although I urge you to be courteous and polite, there are no limitations on what you may say. You may also view others’ comments through the regulations.gov page to get an idea of how people are structuring their letters. Some are long and impassioned, while others are as short as “please save our national monuments.” Not a creative type, or short on time? No worries, numerous organizations create form letters for you to send. Find an organization whose views align with yours, add your contact info, and click send. However, while form letters are still counted, individualized letters are counted individually and may be given more weight by the administration. Here are a few places with form letters or drafting advice:
- Emphasize that you are an outdoor recreationist and a stakeholder on public lands
- If you feel connected to Bears Ears or another National Monument, explain what it means to you personally
- Indicate your support for National Monuments and protected public lands in general
- Respond to the concerns that there was not adequate public outreach
- Affirm that you want to see Bears Ears, and other National Monuments, retain their protections
Southern Utah Wilderness Association