Today, we witnessed the largest elimination of protected areas in United States history.
In Utah, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was cut by 50%, and Bears Ears, also a national monument, was shrunk from more than a million acres to 200,000. When combined, these cuts represent more than two million acres of awe-inspiring land that the current administration no longer deems worthy of protection.
That is deeply disappointing, considering public lands serve as one of the country’s great uniting forces. National parks and monuments are widely known as America’s best idea, and people of all political beliefs have rallied to support access and recreation on public lands. Just a few months ago, nearly three million Americans sent comments to the government in support of national monuments that were hastily cut.
Whether you’ve been following this story or not, there’s a good chance you’re one of the 144 million Americans of all stripes who participated in outdoor recreation last year and have reason to take note of this development. Because of yesterday’s action, millions of acres of our nation’s most beautiful and sensitive land are now vulnerable to oil and gas development, coal mining and more. What had been carefully protected so that all Americans could enjoy it is now likely to be put on the market for the highest bidder.
Beyond outdoor recreation, these lands are vitally important to the past and future of five Native American tribes that advocate tirelessly for their protection. Visitors to these places come face-to-face with 1,000-year-old cliff dwellings, ancient rock carvings and countless other signs that it was once home to a thriving civilization—a part of our collective history.
And so, the day after these lands have been taken away from the American people, we think about what comes next. In the outdoor industry, we’re constantly exploring, scouting peaks and sending routes. We know our greatest achievements come through perseverance. When the weather doesn’t cooperate or a finger hold slips at a critical pitch—we stop, collect ourselves and then push forward until we complete the route.
It will be difficult but essential work to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante to their former protected status, but we can work together to make sure that these incredible places are available to everyone. In the short term, the administration’s decision means Bears Ears won’t have the vital resources to manage the incoming visitors, which have grown exponentially over the past three years. Resources that help educate and inform people who want to explore these places in a safe and respectful way like exhibits, maps, trails, signs and staff.
The nonprofit organization, Friends of Cedar Mesa, is fundraising for the development of a Bears Ears Education Center, and we are pledging resources to ensure its success. The center is but one example of how people are creatively coming together to keep our public lands intact and it’s worthy of support.
We are all equally welcome on our nation’s public lands. They need us as much as we need them.