In Defense of Public Lands

The current presidential administration is making an unprecidented attack against the preservation of our National Monuments. With a campaign of false information and public relations trickery, this president seeks to undermine many large-scale, land-conserving federally protected monuments in order to appease resource extracting business interests. Many of these imperiled, beautiful pieces of the West are a last bastion of a cultural and biological heritage that demands our strictest conservation efforts, not a wasteful and gluttonous policy that tragically disregards our responsibility to the future. To better understand what is really at stake and what the nature of this threat is, let me walk you through my experience last week at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you aren’t familiar the Outdoor Retailer Tradeshow is the largest of its kind in the world. For the past twenty-two years, this show has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to Utah, and now because of the short-sighted politics of Utah’s state government, the show will be moving to Denver, Colorado next year.

We marched on the State Capitol, Thursday July 27, 2017, in a show of solidarity, demanding that the Department of the Interior takes no further action towards any of the existing National Monuments and that we would not tolerate any modification to the existing borders of those monuments. When the president says that he wishes to return “the land to the people” he is misleading: private interest is not public interest. The federal department in charge of the National Monuments is the Department of the Interior, and the current Secretary of the DOI is Ryan Zinke.

I was invited out to Outdoor Retailer by a wonderful company called Allett as they lauch their new brand, Mule. We collaborated on an idea to support these National Monuments where I would make paintings, Live at the show (above left), and they would raffle them off to support those non-governmental organizations working to preserve these monuments. The event was massively successful and I am so great to report that we raised hundreds of dollars for the cause.

One of the big highlights for me was getting a chance to meet Sally Jewell (above right). Sally Jewell was the Secretary of the Department of the Interior during the last presidential administration and she is a personal hero of mine. Her energy and her positivity are infectious and I was thrilled to hear her reassuring words: “They don’t have any plan yet. It is all just a bunch of noise. If they do try to shrink these monuments, we will see them in court for years to come.” When I asked her about her plans for the future she told me that at this point she is happy to not be taking an active role in the government and is enjoying canoeing with her grandchildren in the Pacific Northwest.

One of the most controversial monuments up for review is the Bears Ears National Monument.  This stretch of the Utah backcountry has been home to the Ute people for tens of thousands of years. Many quality organizations are pushing back against the current administration’s recommendation at drastically reducing its borders, including: Friends of Cedar Mesa, and The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The Indian Lands and Public Lands Alliance (ILPLA) and the Ute Indian Tribe Political Action Committee (UTEPAC) and leading the way in cooperation to protect these important lands and to forge a new type of public/native relationship with the federal government. Larry Whitebelly Cesspooch, above right, at the Outdoor Retailer show is a master storyteller who here, demonstrates the music behind the Bear Dance. Check out Larry’s TED talk here.

The other Utah National Monument that I painted in support of is Grand Staircase Escalante. At almost 1.9 million acres, this incredible swath of Utah’s Canyonlands is an incredibly impressive effort of posterity that deserves to be honored and defended against privatization schemes that hope to erode its integrity.

From Earth Justice‘s most recent publication. I did notice that Outdoor Retailer just seemed smaller this year – I suppose in part because Patagonia wasn’t there and many vendors followed them in good conscience.

One of the most beautiful pieces of land-designation legislation in recent decades is the emergence of the Mojave Trails National Monument. Between the Marine Base and the Mojave Preserve, this invaluable piece of California desert holds a bevy of precious life that deserves perpetual protection. The map, above left, is from my forthcoming books of maps, The California Field Atlas.

Sand to Snow, San Gabriel Mountains, and the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument round out the three other National Monuments I made paintings in support of. Please consider supporting the following groups in the efforts to continue to protect these amazing places and all the living systems that call them home: