In response to Kelly Mike Green’s The View column “Public Lands Expansion Syndrome,” printed in our Sept. 26 - Oct. 2 edition.
While I agree with Mr. Green’s desire to create sustainable economies in southern Utah and throughout the rural west, his entire article is based on a false notion that public lands are “expanding.”
Mr. Green cites Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) as a specific example where environmental non-profit groups and outdoor retailers use “propaganda” to sway public opinion and outlaw any and all extractive uses such as logging and ranching. In reality, these lands have been managed by the federal government for decades, and continue to be managed by the USFS and BLM, while allowing for pre-monument designation uses such as grazing and timber harvesting consistent with the proper care and management of the national monument. Additionally, travel management plans allow for off-highway vehicle use on existing roads.
What Mr. Green suggests as “Public Lands Expansion Syndrome” is actually a step towards a more equitable and provident management plan for our public lands. BENM was a truly Native American Monument. Its inception by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition consisting of Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Navajo nations was a long-overdue and essential step towards preserving irreplaceable cultural resources and beginning a long journey of intercultural and intergenerational healing. To suggest that the Utah Diné Bikeyah is acting under the “guise of saving the environment” is not only offensive, but it lacks a basic understanding of the history and power dynamics of the region.
Mr. Green is also worried about the inability to mine minerals like uranium and drill for oil in a national monument because it may take away “well-paying jobs”, forcing local residents to move away. The growing gap between the rich and the poor is not a local phenomenon. Attributing rural poverty to national environmental groups is problematic at best. The real problem is our societies’ insatiable thirst for energy and raw materials, the lack of consumer options for change, and the economic behemoth of corporate capitalism.
I agree with Mr. Green in that a complete shift towards a recreation-based economy is not a holy grail for long-term economic prosperity or sustainability. The “Moab-factor” is a doubled-edge sword. While it may be nice to not have an active uranium mill in our proverbial and literal “backyards,” having 1.5 million visitors a year come visit to look at the pretty red rocks has a significant, direct impact on public lands (e.g. overcrowding, traffic, litter, human waste, etc.), not to mention the enormous carbon footprint that it takes for people to travel here from all over the world. Solely focusing on a recreation economy where any tangible impacts of where our energy, buildings, electronics, and not to mention our food, come from, is not only naive, but extremely impractical, if not hypocritical.
We need to have real discussions (not yelling matches). We need to have civil conversations and interactions with people who have different opinions and values. We need to seek common ground, find compromise and create real, robust, structural, and economic solutions to our public land issues. We need to value each other’s values, probably listen more than talk, and seek understanding first.
Let’s expand the public discourse by using facts, critical thinking, and compassion for our fellow community members.
Chris Benson, Moab