A New Vision for Conservation in Utah

by Willie Grayeyes, Utah Diné Bikéyah Board Chairman

Chimney Park and the Abajo Mountains as seen from the Notch Canyon overlook. Photo Credit: Tim Peterson


Gazing out across the Bears Ears landscape of southeastern Utah, every person sees the sandstone mesas and pinyon-juniper woodlands a little differently. Outdoor enthusiasts see world-class climbing, hiking, canyoneering and mountain biking. Local ranchers see abundant year-round forage for cattle and healthy landscapes to sustain future generations. Archaeologists see some of the most intact artifacts and best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world.

As Native Americans who have inhabited the Bears Ears region since time immemorial, we see a landscape still occupied by the spirits of our ancestors. We see a landscape layered with stories, songs, and prayers passed down generation to generation. We see our past and our future within the plants, animals, and ceremonies that are tied to this landscape, just as we are tied to this landscape like a child to its mother.

That attachment – and the vision of healing that connection between people and the Earth – has driven the historic initiative to protect the two-million-acre Bears Ears cultural landscape. An unprecedented coalition of Native American Tribes is calling on President Obama to protect Bears Ears now as a national monument. Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the President has the power to protect this invaluable area from ongoing threats of looting, vandalism, and mineral extraction. The tribally-led vision of Bears Ears National Monument has drawn the support of a diverse array of individuals and organizations locally and across the United States, including the Conservation Alliance, outdoor recreationalists, as well as thousands of grassroots Native American people who live adjacent to the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. We thank you for your support!

Evolution of the Bears Ears Proposal

Utah Diné Bikéyah, the Native-led conservation nonprofit for which I serve as Board Chairman, has been a catalyzing force in the Bears Ears initiative. Our organization’s name (pronounced di-nay bi-kay-uh) means “sacred land of the people” in the Navajo language, and our Board of Directors is comprised exclusively of grassroots Native American leaders and traditionalists. For half a dozen years, UDB has been actively asserting our Native voice in public lands management in southeast Utah. We work to represent the interests of grassroots Native Americans who make up the majority population in Utah’s largest county, within which the Bears Ears cultural landscape lies. Starting in 2010, UDB Board and staff initiated the stakeholder engagement process that was eventually picked up and sponsored by Utah’s congressional representatives. Utah political leaders sought to sculpt a legislative solution for the future of Utah public lands that would appease all parties. Unfortunately, the legislative process failed to sufficiently respond to Native American requests or honor our deep connection to these lands. Our voices were not listened to.

And so, in 2015, UDB asked for the help of five sovereign Tribes – Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi, Zuni, and Uintah Ouray Ute – to lead the effort to protect Bears Ears. The five Tribes formed the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, an unprecedented Coalition of sovereign tribal nations that has been working in a government-to-government relationship with the Obama Administration over the past year to secure protections for this two million acre cultural landscape. The proposed Bears Ears National Monument marks the first time in history that Tribes have asked a President of the United States to designate a national monument in honor of Native American heritage. As outlined in the Tribes’ proposal, Bears Ears National Monument would also be the strongest collaborative management model ever implemented, with Tribes sharing equal status with federal agencies in overseeing and managing our ancestral homelands.

Recreation as Part of Healing

UDB and the Coalition are also collaborating with conservationists and recreationalists who care deeply about the future of the Bears Ears region. Bears Ears is a revered destination for activities like rock climbing, camping, backpacking, and river rafting, and UDB sees these activities as a form of healing. Native and non-Native people alike enjoy recreational activities as well as the experience of simply being out in a remote, wild and ecologically intact landscape. Two million acres is a modest request in a world where such places have become all too rare. We understand that these lands provide psychological and spiritual sustenance for all of us.

That is why UDB and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition are working closely with recreation advocacy organizations to ensure that world-class climbing routes will remain open and accessible. After all, the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here long ago were clearly incredible climbers, constructing sophisticated cliff dwellings in unlikely alcoves and hard-to-reach ledges that can still be visited today. The proposal recommends that all respectful recreational uses continue within the Bears Ears landscape.

Utah Diné Bikéyah and Tribes appreciated the formal endorsement of the Bears Ears National Monument proposal by the Access Fund, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Outdoor Alliance on July 29. Public articulation of support for Bears Ears National Monument by over a dozen leading outdoor companies including Black Diamond, Patagonia, and The North Face on August 4 further reinforced that cultural preservation and recreational access can and will co-exist in a future Bears Ears National Monument.

Seeing the New Route Forward

When we look out across Bears Ears, what we see reflects what we each value about this unique landscape. With Bears Ears National Monument, Tribes are proposing to honor and protect the many ways of using and relating to this region that sustain this cultural landscape and the people – all the people – who treasure Bears Ears.

Come, stand here beside us. Can you see what we see? Together we will share a unified vision for Bears Ears National Monument and lead a new route in American history.


What You Can Do

Sign the petition asking President Obama to designate Bears Ears National Monument:

Also learn more about the history of the tribally-led proposal, subscribe to Utah Dine Bikeyah’s e-newsletter, and show your support with great Protect Bears Ears gear!


New Donor Program Launches with Outdoor Industry Icons

Pictured left to right: Kirk Richardson; Steve Meineke; Matt Hyde; Steve Barker; Peter Metcalf; Adam Forest; Sally McCoy; Steve Rendle; and Casey Sheahan. (Not Pictured:  Yvon Chouinard and Rory Fuerst)

The Conservation Alliance launched a new major donor program at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. The Leading Edge program provides the opportunity for individuals to make a significant contribution to support The Conservation Alliance’s efforts to protect wild places throughout North America for their recreation and habitat values.

To be part of the Leading Edge, individuals must commit to contribute $5,000 annually for at least three years. Each of the initial Leading Edge donors is a long-time industry leader who has, through a lifetime of active commitment to conservation, earned the respect of the outdoor industry. Most are either founders of The Conservation Alliance, or have served on the organization’s board of directors. The initial Leading Edgers are: Yvon Chouinard; Steve and Nona Barker; Sally McCoy; Peter Metcalf; Adam Forest; Rory Fuerst; Matt Hyde; Steve Meineke; Steve Rendle; Kirk Richardson; and Casey Sheahan.

We are fortunate to have friends like these who have committed so much of their time and expertise to help build The Conservation Alliance,” said John Sterling, Conservation Alliance Executive Director. “Now we will benefit from their personal generosity.”

“I am happy to help launch the Leading Edge, support conservation, and create a stronger tradition of personal philanthropy within our industry,” said Sally McCoy, former CEO of CamelBak, and chair of The Conservation Alliance board. “Wild places are so important to the outdoor industry, and supporting The Conservation Alliance is an effective way to ensure these places are protected.”

The Leading Edge is now open to anyone who is interested in supporting The Conservation Alliance. Donors may direct their contributions to either the organization’s grant fund (to directly support conservation projects), or to the discretionary fund (to help cover The Conservation Alliance’s lean operating expenses).

“Serving on The Conservation Alliance board brought great meaning to my work in the outdoor industry, and I am honored to have the opportunity to give something back,” said Casey Sheahan, former CEO of Patagonia, and, like McCoy, chair of The Conservation Alliance board. “When industry leaders founded The Conservation Alliance in 1989, they understood that conservation is a core value for our business. The Conservation Alliance has been a remarkable steward of that value ever since.”

“Time and again, outdoor industry leaders have demonstrated a willingness to work together to advance the causes foundational to the industry,” said Sterling. “Conservation is one of those shared values, and the Leading Edge will provide a lasting vehicle for industry leaders to express their personal commitment to protecting our wild places.”

Individuals interested in participating in the Leading Edge program should contact John Sterling.

Outdoor Retailer Events Promote National Monument Campaigns in Alaska and Utah

Florian Shulz shares stunning photos and videos from his journey from Baja to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

With a mere five months left in President Obama’s final term, potential new National Monument designations were in the air at The Conservation Breakfast at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake. Featured speaker, wildlife photographer Florian Schulz, gave a stunning presentation that followed the Pacific Coast from Baja to the Arctic, and ended with a plea that President Obama designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a National Monument. Doing so would end the decades-long battle over whether to protect the Coastal Plain, or open it to oil drilling.

Prior to Schulz’s talk, the standing-room-only crowd heard from Christy Goldfuss, Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Goldfuss and her team advise the President on conservation policy, and play a key role in determining which landscapes to preserve as National Monuments. During her remarks, Goldfuss addressed National Monuments and the controversial proposals that would protect millions of acres of public land in places like Southern Utah, the Arctic, Grand Canyon, and Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. “How bold we can be really depends on how loud all of you are in saying that these places matter to the future of our nation,” she said. “Right now it matters. Jump in. Tell us what’s important to you.” So we jumped in immediately with a post card campaign in support of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Later that day, a collection of outdoor industry business leaders held a press conference to voice support for the proposed Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah. Conservation Alliance board member and founder of Black Diamond Equipment Peter Metcalf led the press conference, which included voices from Petzl, The North Face, Patagonia, KEEN Footwear, Osprey, Skull Candy, Armada, Treasure Mountain Inn, Kuhl, POC, Gregory, Rossignol, and Mountain Hardwear. If designated, the Bears Ears National Monument would protect nearly two million acres of land in Utah, including Indian Creek, Grand Gulch, the San Juan River, and the culturally-rich Cedar Mesa.

With the Outdoor Retailer show behind us, The Conservation Alliance will continue to bring our business voice to bear on conservation opportunities. We hope to celebrate some big victories before the end of the year!

Christy Goldfuss, Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
400 Conservation Alliance Breakfast attendees took action by asking President Obama to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Scott Whipps, Chair of The Conservation Alliance Board, recognizes our seven Pinnacle members.
Conservation Alliance board members Peter Metcalf, Ann Krcik and Hans Cole, alongside 10 fellow outdoor industry leaders, called on President Obama to protect the Bears Ears region as a national monument at Outdoor Retailer.

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