The Fight for Bears Ears Has Begun

Looking out at the northern part of Bears Ears National Monument.

I had driven by the sign a hundred times, but never gone down the road. Someone in the group suggested we drive out to the Needles Overlook, since we had all come together to talk about Bears Ears National Monument, and this would give us a great vantage point of the northern part of it. Everyone was game, and off we went.

After twenty miles, we came to the rim of the mesa, where the road could go no further. Stretching in either direction were endless miles of Wingate sandstone cliffs, and a landscape spread out before us that would take several lifetimes to fully explore. We could see Island in the Sky, Hart’s Draw, Indian Creek, The Needles District, Lockhart Basin and many places I don’t yet know the names of. A desert full of beauty and wonder, and at the time, protected under the new national monument designation.

In places like this, it’s easy to lose track of time. Looking out at a landscape filled with so many features, your mind can’t help but pick out each ridge, canyon, tower, so much beauty it’s hard to take it all in. And so we stared silently, like we would any great work of art. But our time there was bittersweet, as hanging over it all was the specter that the angry orange man might try to take it away.

Sunset over North Six Shooter, Indian Creek, Bears Ears National Monument.

Later that night, we gathered at the Four Corners School in Monticello, to listen to a presentation by the Conservation Lands Foundation about Bears Ears and threats it is facing. During the presentation, I learned several things I didn’t know about national monuments, but a big one was that the monument designation does not affect the current uses that are happening on the land. So if there are already mines, oil operations, leases, etc, those things are allowed to continue as is. For example, at Canyon of The Ancients, in southwestern Colorado, 85% of the land is under extraction or ranching leases, and that has continued after it became a national monument.

I felt like this was an important point that hadn’t been pushed enough into the public, as part of the fear mongering by the Anti-Bears Ears crowd has to do with thinking they will lose access to things they currently have. But thankfully, they can still do whatever they were already doing with the monument, there simply can’t be any new extractive leases or areas developed that aren’t slated for it already. Seems like a good compromise to me.

The end of another beautiful day in Indian Creek, Bears Ears National Monument.

For most climbers, when we talk about Bears Ears we think of Indian Creek. Even if you’ve only been a few times, you’ve probably seen some pictographs, petroglyphs, dinosaur tracks or maybe even a cliff dwelling. And as prominent as this stuff is in the Creek, talk to anyone who’s spent time in the heart of the monument, south of the Creek, and they’ll tell you there’s incredible archaeology around every corner. Cliff dwellings, pottery, granaries. These are special places, reminders of a simpler time, not to mention their importance to the Native Americans of the area.

I have fond memories of staring out from the base of an ancient cliff dwelling, pondering what it would have been like to live there a thousand years ago. To collect water from the nearby spring that seeps out of the base of the Wingate cliff. To travel down to the valley floor to hunt game. To live every day in a place of stunning beauty and solitude. I’m so thankful we can go to these places and connect with the ancient people who lived there.

As we all know, the President has shrunk Bears Ears by 85%, effective immediately, and removed protection from most of these special lands. Several lawsuits have been brought, as the President has no legal power to make these changes, and from talking to people who are working closely on the issue, there is a strong feeling that the Trump administration will lose this battle in the courts.

So what can you do in the meantime? Support the organizations that are taking the fight to the White House. Lawsuits have been brought by the groups below, and if these places are special to you, I hope you’ll fight as well.

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition
Conservation Lands Foundation
The Wilderness Society
The Natural Resources Defense Council
The Sierra Club
The Access Fund

A special thanks to Patagonia for bringing us all together in Bears Ears to talk about this issues and enjoy this special place, and for taking the fight to Washington.

Locals Corner

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