President Obama Designates Bears Ears National Monument


President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument, permanently protecting 1,350,000 acres of public land in southeastern Utah. The Bears Ears landscape is home to thousands of Native American cultural sites, which inspired a coalition of tribes to band together to push for the designation. The region also boasts world-class rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, canyoneering, whitewater paddling, and skiing. By designating the Bears Ears National Monument, President Obama preserves a place where outdoor enthusiasts have the opportunity to respectfully explore a protected landscape where past and present intersect.

The centerpiece of the new monument is Cedar Mesa, a high-elevation plateau riddled with serpentine canyons that drain into the San Juan River. I first visited Cedar Mesa nearly 20 years ago, guided by a friend who was working to protect the area. I asked – naively it turns out – what threatened the place. She took me to a spot just off a well-traveled BLM road that was littered with countless sherds of pottery left by Ancestral Puebloan communities. From the many small pieces of clay, I assembled a pot in my imagination: gray clay with simple, but artistic, painted designs. I looked closely at one piece of pottery, and saw the imprint of the potter’s fingerprints in the clay. As my eyes focused, I realized that I could not walk through the area without stepping on more sherds. The cultural history of the place was on full display.

I then saw a spaghetti bowl network of vehicle tracks, remnants of ATV wheels that had churned through the area. My friend told me that there are countless sites throughout Cedar Mesa that suffered similar damage. Few regulations, limited enforcement. I felt devastated that this beautiful record of the past, integrated with a spectacular natural landscape, was at risk.

I have visited Cedar Mesa several times since; to float the San Juan River, hike canyons, and explore rock art. I came away from each visit in awe of the people who made a life off the land 1,000 years ago. I also learned about new threats to the region, including energy development, and the looting of cultural sites.

Nearly four years ago, The Conservation Alliance learned that Utah Congressman Rob Bishop wanted to develop legislation that would protect large swaths of southeastern Utah, and open equally large swaths to resource extraction. His “grand bargain”, called the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), would offer something to everyone. We funded several conservation organizations (Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and The Pew Charitable Trusts) to work on the PLI, and continued to invest in that effort until late 2015. At that point, it became clear that the PLI would likely contain too many poison pills for the conservation community to swallow. Fortunately, a parallel effort, led by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, was working to protect much of the same area as a national monument, which would not require an act of Congress. With grants to Utah Dineh Bikeyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa, we threw our support behind the monument effort.

Along the way, we found remarkable support within the outdoor business and recreation communities for the protection of the Bears Ears. We worked closely with our colleagues at Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Alliance to demonstrate the economic and recreation benefits of the Bears Ears region. At the Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer trade show, an unprecedented group of CEOs held a press conference to call on President Obama to designate a Bears Ears National Monument. Business leaders from Utah and beyond spoke from the heart about the place in economic, recreation, and spiritual terms. It was a moving event.

Early in his presidency, Obama said he wanted to designate national monuments that help tell lesser-known parts of the American story. I’ve explored the Bears Ears region over the years, amazed that no school teacher ever taught me about the Ancestral Puebloans, and how they built tools and structures, farmed, and conducted rituals throughout the desert Southwest. By designating Bears Ears National Monument, President Obama shines a light on an important part of our story. We now have the opportunity to respectfully explore a protected landscape where past and present intersect.

President Obama Designates Gold Butte National Monument


President Obama added to his significant conservation legacy by designating the Gold Butte National Monument, permanently protecting 296,937 acres of public land in southern Nevada. Gold Butte – also considered Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon – includes rugged mountains, Joshua tree and Mojave yucca forests, outcroppings of sandstone, and braided washes that turn into slot canyons. Native Americans have depended on this area for sustenance, medicine gathering, and spiritual use for thousands of years. Visitors can find rock art, structures, roasting pits, and pottery throughout the area.

The Conservation Alliance first supported efforts to protect Gold Butte back in 2006 when we funded Nevada Wilderness Project to develop a campaign to designate the area as Wilderness. That effort laid the groundwork for the national monument campaign that followed. Earlier this year, we supported both Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Friends of Gold Butte to build grassroots support for the monument designation.

Our friends at KEEN Footwear included Gold Butte in their Live Monumental campaign, an effort to urge President Obama to designate five national monuments before the end of his term. Founding member Patagonia has been a long-time participant in the Gold Butte effort. And Las Vegas-based Zappos hosted events to rally support for the designation. It’s always great to see our members go above-and-beyond in to push for new conservation gains.

President Obama protected Gold Butte on the same day that he designated Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. With these protections, President Obama secures an important place in the history of conservation in the United States.

What the new forest plan means for our Tongass National Forest

©Earl Harper

Guest blog post by Jenny Weis, Communications Director at Trout Unlimited – Alaska 

Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest produces more wild salmon than anywhere else in the country. At 17 million acres, this magnificent landscape of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, western red cedar and Alaska yellow cedar trees is part of the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rain forest and hosts some of the rarest ecosystems on the planet that are ideal spawning and rearing conditions for wild Pacific salmon and trout.

Besides sustaining the cultures and lifestyles of local residents including three coastal tribes, salmon from the Tongass employ one in 10 people in the region and contribute an estimated $1 billion per year to the Southeast Alaska economy.

Despite its bounty and unique role as America’s last “salmon forest,” the Tongass faces threats.

Salmon depend on intact watersheds that haven’t been degraded by logging and road-building. Despite this, huge volumes of the old growth forest have been logged from public lands in Southeast Alaska. Many miles of road are carved into pristine areas and pulp mills have historically polluted the air and water. Though the situation on the ground is bad, the political climate can, at times, be even worse.

Historically, the Forest Service has been too hung-up on supporting the old-growth logging industry to prioritize righting the wrongs done to the forest and protecting salmon and trout for future generations.

Until this month.

The Forest Service just officially amended the Tongass Land Management Plan to prioritize protections the most important areas for salmon and trout in the forest. The Tongass Land Management Plan is the document that governs activities including logging, road-building, mining, habitat restoration and recreation. The new plan nudges the existing timber industry into using young growth, meaning smaller trees that have grown back after clear-cut logging and, over the course of 16 years, phases out large-scale old growth logging altogether in the Tongass. This is excellent news for Tongass fish and the businesses that depend on them!

While we know special interests, still pining for the heavy logging of the past, will work to roll back or eliminate the best parts of this plan, we are celebrating this major milestone for healthy Tongass fisheries. TU will work to uphold this progress, and also to achieve further investments at the state and federal levels in salmon and recreation.

Thank you for your support!

©Earl Harper

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