In response to Kelly Mike Green’s The View column “Public Lands Expansion Syndrome,” printed in our Sept. 26 - Oct. 2 edition.
Last week’s column in the Moab Sun News by Kelly Mike Green deserves a response because it contains such a bewildering mix of fact and fiction, valuable insights and confusions. Let’s begin with the latter.
Mr. Green asserts that environmental groups and outdoor recreation companies want to “keep public lands forever expanding.” If he means that they want to convert private lands into public, nothing could be further from the truth. What groups like SUWA or the Sierra Club hope to do is change the official status of existing public lands now administered by the BLM or Forest Service so that they would be more fully protected as national monuments, national and state parks, or wilderness areas. In other words, we are talking about what would be the highest and best use of the millions of acres of land already in public hands, not about seizing private lands.
Second, Mr. Green repeats the old canard that “big donors” and “environmental nonprofit entities” pour huge amounts of money into conservation campaigns, but mostly to benefit their own economic interests. While there certainly are some wealthy environmental groups and donors, the money they spend on lobbying or litigation is chicken feed compared to the amount spent by, say, the petroleum industry or the Koch Brothers. Of course, SUWA and kindred organizations lobby, but they usually fail. Notice that Utah has lots of wilderness study areas on BLM land, but not much designated wilderness. In any case, it is mean-spirited to imply that environmentalists who urge public land protection are merely hypocrites seeking financial gain. I know many such people, and I can assure Mr. Green that they are sincere in their conviction that public lands need stronger protections.
Where Mr. Green is on the right track is in deploring the impact of tourism on communities like Moab. A rising tide of Americans (spurred on somewhat by the “Mighty Five” and other advertising schemes) and foreign tourists want to see Arches, Canyonlands, and our other parks, and they will not suddenly stop coming. It would thus be a Quixotic quest to try to turn back the clock and somehow make Moab a sleepy uranium-mining town again. Now when there is an increasing demand for some “product” the usual market response is to make more of it. We cannot make more scenic landscapes, but we already have many that are virtually unprotected.
The logical response to the problems Mr. Green describes is the opposite of what he suggests: to create more national parks, state parks, and monuments like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and make sure visitors to Utah know about them. That would reduce some of the strain on communities like Moab or Springdale by dispersing the tourists more widely across more lands of extraordinary scenic quality and their nearby towns. If we don’t do that, then all those tourists will be concentrated in a much smaller number of towns and parks, with all the attendant problems Mr. Green depicts.
So, by all means, let’s restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante to what they were before 2017 and think of over candidates for national monument or national/state park status: maybe the San Rafael Reef and Swell?? And let’s shift publicity campaigns to other underappreciated places like Dinosaur National Monument or Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The “Mighty Five” campaign should have taught us a lesson: If you advertise it, they will come!
Lew Hinchman, Moab