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Historic Opportunity to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

This is a potentially historic year for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This 20-million-acre landscape, which stretches from the Brooks Range north to the Arctic Ocean, has for decades been the subject of countless battles between the conservation community and proponents of oil drilling. In 1980, Congress designated nearly half of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness. Left unprotected was a crucial strip of land known as the Coastal Plain, the 1.5-million-acre area where the refuge meets the Beaufort Sea. The State of Alaska and the oil industry have long sought to drill for the known oil deposits under the Coastal Plain, but needs Congress to pass a bill allowing access. At the same time, the conservation community has fought to pass bills through Congress designating the Coastal Plain as Wilderness. The effort to protect the Coastal Plain has never been as close to success as it is today, as a cascade of events over the past two years have moved the effort closer to the finish line.

In January 2015, President Obama formally recommended that Congress designate the Coastal Plain as Wilderness. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House that would secure those protections. In December 2015, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced similar legislation into the Senate. Last month, the House voted on Rep. Huffman’s bill, the first time Congress has ever voted on a Wilderness bill for the Arctic Refuge. (The bill did not pass). Meanwhile, oil prices are so low that oil companies are abandoning plans to drill existing leases in the Arctic Ocean.

As President Obama nears the end of his term, a broad group of stakeholders — including the outdoor industry — are calling on the President to do all he can to give the Coastal Plain the highest level of protection possible. The Conservation Alliance has funded several organizations over the past 15 years to support campaigns to protect the Arctic Refuge. We are now working with Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to circulate a letter among our respective member companies, asking President Obama to protect the refuge. We expect at least 100 companies to sign that letter. OIA recently released a statement in support of protecting the Arctic Refuge, noting both its recreation and habitat values. In April, The Conservation Alliance, OIA, and Outdoor Alliance will gather in Washington, DC with dozens of representatives from our respective organizations. One goal of that trip is to explain to decision makers why protecting the Arctic Refuge is important.

Looking further ahead, The Conservation Alliance Breakfast on August 4th will feature a presentation by renowned photographer Florian Schulz, whose talk will have a strong Arctic theme. Now is the time to push for Arctic protection.

Take action today and contact us if you would like to become more involved.

The Year of Bears Ears

Bears Ears Sunset Photo: Tim Peterson

By Tim Peterson, Utah Wildlands Program Director, Grand Canyon Trust

If you’re looking to hike, bike, raft, boat, or climb, there’s no better place than Utah. You may be familiar with Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef, but around and between Utah’s iconic National Parks are millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands – mountains and badlands, cliffs and canyons, rivers and streams, sandstone towers and wild mesas.

Unfortunately, the majority of Utah’s iconic landscape is still open to fossil fuel and mineral development. These extractive industries always boom and bust, inflicting lasting scars on the landscape, leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess when the money dries up. Many in Utah are now looking to recreation for a more sustainable future. After all, the recreation economy brings Utah $12 billion annually in spending and more than 122,000 jobs.

It seemed, for a time, that even Utah’s pro-fossil fuels politicians were concerned about protecting the recreation economy. The 2013 Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI), spearheaded by Representative Rob Bishop (R, UT), offered hope. Bishop claimed the PLI sought “to build consensus” over which areas in seven eastern Utah counties should be preserved and which should be developed.

We at the Grand Canyon Trust, along with our partners in the conservation and recreation communities, were inspired by the promise of the PLI. We worked hard, making solid progress early on, even reaching negotiated agreements in two counties that struck a delicate balance that ensured conservation came out ahead. But things began to sour in 2015. One county broke from our negotiated agreement and another excluded everyone living outside the county when crafting their proposal. Discussions elsewhere deteriorated over too little wilderness and too much fossil fuel development. Despite our best efforts at compromise, by mid-2015 it become clear that “consensus” was no longer Representative Bishop’s goal.

In January 2016, Bishop released a draft of his PLI, and it’s a big step backwards for conservation in Utah. The bill would actually weaken existing on-the-ground protections for Utah’s best wilderness-quality lands. Representative Bishop, long known as a friend to industry, is using the PLI as a vehicle to float all kinds of new legislative language – from weakening the Wilderness Act of 1964 to transferring tens of thousands of acres and more than nine thousand public roads over to state ownership – just to name three of the bill’s many poison pills.

Though consensus compromise has failed in the PLI, there is a bright ray of hope on the horizon. A historic coalition of five sovereign Native American Tribal Governments (Navajo, Hopi, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni) has come together to propose a new national monument for 1.9 million acres of public lands around a place called Bears Ears in southeastern Utah. Bears Ears is not only beautiful, with outstanding hiking, climbing, biking, boating, and camping opportunities, it is a vibrant cultural landscape full of ancient villages, cliff dwellings, and rock art that continues to be vital to tribal communities across the Colorado Plateau as a place of subsistence, spirituality, healing, and contemplation.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s landmark proposal calls upon the president to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create a new national monument for Bears Ears.  The Antiquities Act was created to protect archaeologically and culturally significant resources, but for the first time tribes are petitioning the president for a national monument that calls for joint management between the tribes and the federal government.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s inspiring campaign has healing at its core – for the land and for all people – and the Obama administration is taking notice. At the 2015 Native Nations Conference in December, President Obama promised: “we will review tribal proposals to permanently protect sacred lands for future generations.”

Bears Ears represents the best shot at permanent protection in Utah in nearly two decades. We at the Grand Canyon Trust support the efforts of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. We’re very excited about Bear Ears and we hope you are too! You can help make sure 2016 is the “Year of Bears Ears” by signing the petition to President Obama in support of the tribes to permanently protect Bears Ears as a national monument. You can learn more about the effort at http://www.protectbearsears.org/.

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Video:  Hear more about Bears Ears from Ute Mountain Ute Councilwoman Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk

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