On May 11–the day after US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke concluded his Utah visit as part of the review that President Donald Trump ordered for national monuments established since 1996–a delegation of approximately 50 climbers lobbied Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, to deliver a message: “Keep public lands in public hands.”
The Access Fund reports that 60 percent of the country’s climbing areas are on public lands. Bears Ears National Monument contains world-class climbing areas such as Indian Creek. This area is also highly important to a large group of Native American tribes, whose members were the primary force behind the movement, starting in 2010. The Bears Ears Coalition, in favor of the monument, consists of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe (as listed on the coalition’s website). The coalition also has the backing of 30 other tribes that have “ancestral, historical and contemporary ties to Bears Ears” as well as the National Congress of American Indians, which represents 270 tribes across the country, according to bearearscoalition.org and utahdinebikeyah.org. More detail on the launching of the movement by the Utah Dine Bikeyah can be found at this link as well as in previous Alpinist coverage here, which includes opinions both for and against the monument from members of Native American tribes, as well as other nearby residents.
There is a May 26 deadline to submit comments before Zinke issues a recommendation to Trump about whether to rescind, reduce or expand the monument (see more information for submitting comments at the end of this article).
The lobbying event was organized by the Access Fund and American Alpine Club, and included Quinn Brett, Tommy Caldwell, Peter Croft, Sasha DiGiulian, Caroline Gleich, Alex Honnold, Shelma Jun, Kai Lightner, Mikhail Martin and Libby Sauter. The contingent split into several smaller groups and attended a total of about 50 meetings with Representatives, Senators and other government officials in the Department of Interior and Forest Service.
“This was a watershed moment for climbers in terms of our political clout,” said Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson.
At a morning briefing before the event, Access Fund Policy Director Erik Murdock introduced the guest lobbyists to Christy Goldfuss, the Vice President for Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress. She previously served as Managing Director for the Council on Environmental Quality under the Obama Administration.
Goldfuss stated very plainly what she believed was at stake with the Trump Administration’s review of national monuments, which were all designated through the Antiquities Act.
“If you go at the Antiquities Act and you start to pull this thread where the president has the authority to undo particular designations, you threaten every single national monument designation that was ever made,” she said. “An attack against one of them is an attack against all of them…. And we have a very strong legal case that it is illegal for the president to undo previous presidents’ designations. It would be an entirely feckless law if one president was supposed to protect things for future generations and then the next came in and just ripped it up and said, ‘You know what, I don’t think this is important for future generations anymore.'”
The lobbying day culminated with a Congressional briefing in the Senate in which the climbers made speeches on behalf of public lands. Such briefings are usually sparsely attended but on this occasion the audience spilled into the hallway and included Senator (and former Vice Presidential Candidate) Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).
“As a mayor and governor and now Senator,” Kaine said, “I’ve worked with a lot of public lands policy, and I’ll just tell you this: Thank you, thank you, as people who care about the outdoors and as a climbing community, for helping us put some muscle behind the quest to preserve, promote and then hopefully expand our public lands. It’s one of the best parts of this country…. In other places where the percentage of public lands is higher it tends to be controversial. We’re in a battle right now about whether monuments designated with the Antiquities Act [should] be rolled back, and we need your voices on this. We need your voices to tell the story about how these lands help you…. What you do and how you spread the message can win adherence and advocates way outside the climbing community.”
Murdock was ecstatic after the event. In all the time he’s spent working on Capitol Hill for the Access Fund, he’d never seen anything like it.
“To have Tim Kaine speak to the climbing community was just unbelievable for us,” he said. “I think we’re finally getting some momentum.”
Caldwell made a speech at the Congressional briefing in which he reflected on how much he’s seen climbing change.
“I’ve been climbing for 35 years, so I really got to see this sport evolve from this very, very tiny niche sport to something that is quite large and kind of influential,” he said. “When I was growing up I never imagined that we would be coming here as climbers and having any power whatsoever, so that’s been the most magical part of this whole day for me…. I think that my life is testament to what public lands can do. I was born small and under-grown and quite shy, and through climbing and our public lands I gained confidence…and that never would have happened without access [to public lands]…. I’ve traveled to other parts of the world where the lands weren’t protected or regulated as well… Our public land is why we can live these lives.”
“What we’re asking for is something that benefits everybody and the Earth,” Mark Maryboy, a founding member of the Utah Dine Bikeyah, told Alpinist last month. “We must do everything we can to protect [Bears Ears]…. So we’re reaching out to everybody–all races–to stand with us…. This is now a world issue because the US president designated it as a national monument.”
Zinke is expected to make a recommendation to Trump about whether to rescind, reduce or expand Bears Ears National Monument by early June. There is a May 26 deadline to submit comments to the Department of Interior and the Access Fund has a suggested letter here. Comments may also be made directly to the Department of Interior here, or by calling 202-208-6416. Handwritten letters are believed to have the greatest effect–these can be mailed to:
MS-1530–US Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240