The Times They Are A Changin’

nature, Outdoors, outside

So it’s been a week since I’ve last blogged, and in that time 27 National Monuments have been put under Interior Department review in accordance with President Trump’s executive order. So what does this mean? Well to begin, national monuments are created when congress or the president (by executive order) deem a specific area/statue/land mass culturally, historically, or scientifically significant under the Antiquities Act of 1906.  Sec. 2 of the Act states:

“That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.”

Therefore, the act can lead to a lot of subjectivity, and what Trump has called for is a review, by the Secretary of the Interior, of 27 monuments, something called for in Sec. 3 of the Act. What is really interesting though, it that both Trump and the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, have called for the first ever formal public comment period on the subject of our national monuments. Zinke commented,

“The Department of the Interior is the steward of America’s greatest treasures and the manager of one-fifth of our land. Part of being a good steward is being a good neighbor and listening to the American people who we represent. Today’s action, initiating a formal public comment process finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monument designations. There is no pre-determined outcome on any monument. I look forward to hearing from and engaging with local communities and stakeholders as this process continues.”


A Buffalo right outside Devil’s Tower National Monument.

I thought this was an exceptionally interesting move, as of course with anything, valid arguments are coming from both sides of the spectrum. While some believe that land is better managed by the state and the people who live on it (rather than distance Washington), others fear the loss of cultural connections to the lands as access and care for it degrade. There are certainly arguments to be had on both sides.

My thoughts are churning though as I sit in a hotel in Gillette, Wyoming after the first shower of a couple weeks. Although, you’ve probably never heard of it, Gillette is the Energy Capital of the Nation providing 40% of the nation’s coal according to the city’s website.


Photo from of the open pit coal mines of Gillette

After speaking with some of the locals, my Dad, who is visiting for two days before we go to Idaho, was discussing how with Trump’s support of the coal industry, Gillette is on the up and up, after Obama’s push for solar and sustainable energy degraded their economy. It just reminded me how every move in politics is a double edged sword: every good event also marks a bad one.

Zach and I walked around an “Energy Park” in Gillette where retired coal and oil machinery come to die.

A huge, retired coal scoop.

I believe the same is true with the National Monument review. In a lot ways, giving land management to the people who live there creates a healthier economy, and allows knowledgeable people to care for the land rather than unattached feds.  A good example of this is Utah, which is a hotbed for these issues because 65% of Utah is already federally owned. Therefore, the state has reason to feel a lack of control and local decision making over the land, and how it should be cared for. It’s not as if people in Utah don’t value the cultural aspects of the land, but there is distrust and dislike of a distant president simply declaring something without their full input.  On the the other hand, the cultural value of certain areas needs to be preserved and kept pristine. In the case of Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, Obama created it after a proposal by “The Bear Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition,” a group of five Native American tribes whose culture and ancestry find the actual “Bear Ears” and the surrounding land sacred.

The “Bear Ears” for which the monument is named (Photo The total monument is 1.9 million acres.

Moreover, the land contains several archaeological and historic sites, while also being a place well-loved by outdoor enthusiasts who fear that if it isn’t protected, economic interests could alter the landscape and eliminate access. But the Antiquities Act is not suppose to be simply a land management tool for the federal government. As it states it is for preserving historic, prehistoric, or scientific places, while taking the smallest amount of land needed to preserve those areas.

So what do you think? It actually matters this time because Zinke and Trump want to know what you think about the Act, its use, its function, and the monuments it protects. I encourage you to research more and weigh in on the subject because this is your land. From the US Department of the Interior, “Comments may be submitted online after May 12 by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.”

Below are the sources I used and they can be used as your starting point.  But I will leave you with this:

“The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves”- Plato

Interior Department Releases List of Monuments Under Review, Announces First-Ever Formal Public Comment Period for Antiquities Act Monuments

American Antiquities Act of 1906

27 national monuments under Interior Dept. review

Keeping the President’s Hands Off Utah’s Land

Why Oppose the Bears Ears National Monument?

Navajos, Utah Officials Oppose Designation of Bears Ears as National Monument

Bear Ears Coalition Proposal


The First Week on the Road

nature, Outdoors, outside

Today marks Zach and I’s first week on the road. We left from New Hampshire last Wednesday night and drove twenty hours straight to Minnesota so I could make a college visit. We then had to stay in Minneapolis another few days as I made another college visit out in California. Hence, it all really began yesterday, when Zach and I drove from Minneapolis to the Black Hills of South Dakota, a scenic nine-hour drive. On our way, we drove through Badlands National Park, and although the park gets its name from the Lakota, who called it mako sica, meaning “Bad lands” due to the difficult terrain, I thought the park was quite spectacular.

PANO_20170426_154943.jpg The landscape contrasts vast sprawling prairie on one side and hundreds of stripped orange and khaki buttes on the other.  I think Frank Lloyd Wright, a renown architect, gave an accurate description in 1935, saying, “I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands… What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere—a distant architecture, ethereal… , an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” Lloyd captures the beauty, but he also gets at the ancient past of Badlands. 75 million years ago, Badlands and the entire Great Plains were the bottom of an ocean which is why fossils can be found throughout the layers of sediment. However, what strikes me the most is the relatively recent history of the land.

Zach and I both have our books– he is reading the lengthy classic The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and I by chance am reading Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch, by Dan O’Brien.  I arbitrarily downloaded the book after seeing it in a Patagonia store, but it actually talks a lot about the very hills I’m writing this post from. O’Brien owns a ranch in the Black Hills, and unlike many other ranchers, is interested in the restoration of the land. From personal experience, he points out that although American culture has fostered a romanticized life on the plains with cows, open fields, and agriculture, the farming and cows that were introduced during homesteading are actually playing a major role in destroying these precious plains. He goes on to say that though cows seem fitting to the Great Plains in our eyes, they originated in Europe, whereas Bison are America’s true grazing animal, having evolved with the land itself and creating a symbiotic relationship.  Sadly, agriculture and plowing destroyed the top soil causing major erosion, and the introduction of cows forced the creation of stock dams which expanded grazing areas thus taking away more wildlife habitat. Most potent of all though, is the degrading effects of overgrazing which is forced on ranchers by the economical struggles of making a living on the Great Plains. Of course, the book goes into greater detail and also shares anecdotes of ranch life, but what I most like is how the book is truly about a single person, a single grass root activist, making the effort he can to rectify the past and look to a brighter future. 

A similar story holds true with Badlands National Park, when conservationist, and Senator of South Dakota during the 20s and 30s, Peter Norbeck, fought successfully for the creation of Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Grand Teton National Park, and Custer State Park. Although, he had much more pull than O’Brien, he still dedicated his career to preserving American lands as is clear when he said, “I would rather be remembered as an artist, than as a United States Senator.” He felt himself an artist in planning Mount Rushmore, and the intricate Needles Highway in Custer State park that, driving today, took me back to winding through the Italian Dolomites (minus vomiting from car sickness).


The famous “Pigtail” Wooden Bridge in Custer (not my photo)

 Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that while it can seem daunting or impossible to make an impact on your own, just trying can make all difference whether it’s in the way you buy and run your own life like O’Brien, or dedicating your career to it like Norbeck. 
You can start now by challenging President Trump’s move yesterday to have national monuments created over the past 21 years reviewed for possible scaling down or dissolving, in order to give control back to the people. Although, possibly sounding good, O’Brien’s story of the homesteaders’ destruction of the land should go to show what can happen when economical pressures or greed can override caring for our lands. Explore the links below to learn more and take action! 

National Geographic’s “What You Need to Know About Trump’s National Monument Rethink”

Protect Our Public Lands

Access Fund Call to Action

Patagonia’s Protect Bear Ears Petition