Photo: Brett Henderson

While High Country Conservation Advocates is a local organization that focuses on protecting our backyard in the Gunnison Country, we recognize that elsewhere the environment needs an effective voice. Currently, at least 27 national monuments are under “review”, likely meaning that the Trump administration is trying to weaken the protections of these monuments. HCCA is calling upon its advocates to speak up and defend these treasured areas.

Mel Yemma, HCCA’s outreach director, gives some encouragement to share your voice in protecting these special places.

Off-season is the high country is quiet, unpredictable, and a great time to escape the mud and head out to the southwest desert. The blanket of snow that I woke up to this morning has me longing to a time two years ago when I was able to sneak in a long-weekend trip out to the Bears Ears area in Utah. While I’ve explored all over the southwest, the beauty, history, and solitude made this area stand out to me. 4 days of backpacking in the Dark Canyon Wilderness was full of exploring ancient cliff dwellings, feeling inspired by the tall canyon walls, drinking fresh water from natural springs hanging in the rocks, and not seeing another soul from start to finish. As I wrapped up the trip camping near Bear’s Ears pass, enjoying the sunset on the expansive horizon, I knew the beauty of this place would stick with me forever.

Flash forward a couple of years and I would have never expected the quiet solitude I found in Dark Canyon to turn into a heated battle to protect this region. Bears Ears, which is now named one of the nation’s most ‘endangered’ places, was designated as a national monument by former President Obama in December 2016. The region is home to more than 100,000 cultural and archeological sites connected with the Pueblo, Navajo, Ute and Zuni tribes, and an inter-tribal coalition came together to push for this monument designation. Obama’s proclamation recognizes the complex history of the area while giving future opportunities for archeological and paleontological studies. It also recognizes the recreation opportunities that many enjoy in the area including hiking, rock climbing, hunting, backpacking, rafting, mountain biking and horseback riding.

But now this recent designation is on the chopping block. No president has ever rescinded a national monument designation, but because of a recent executive order from the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior (for the first time ever) is reviewing previous national monument designations to determine if these places deserve their full protected status and, if they don’t, to change their status. National monuments are designated by presidents using the Antiquities Act, which was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The Antiquities Act authorizes presidents to protect important archaeological, historic and scientific resources on public lands, and it’s been used in a bipartisan way by almost every president…until Trump. This executive order is a big change from America’s history of conservation.

There are currently 27 monuments under review, and Bears Ears is up first. Whether or not you’ve been to Bears Ears, I’m sure each of you have a connection to at least one of these threatened places including Canyons of the Ancients, Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Giant Sequoia, Craters of the Moon, and many more. We have until July 10th (May 26th for Bears Ears) to speak up with our experiences and tell the Department of the Interior that all of these places deserve their protections and should not be opened up to exploitation by special interests.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said, “the Department of the Interior is the steward of America’s greatest treasures and the manager of one-fifth of our land. Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and listening to the American people who we represent.”

Today let’s speak up and prove to Zinke that the American people want these places to stay protected forever. Hopefully, he’ll stay true to his word and listen…

Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.