Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and his family went mountain-biking in the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument with Western Spirit Cycling Adventures on Monday, June 10. Brune is on a family road-trip to proposed and recently established national monuments in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. He spoke about the value of public lands at Star Hall on Tuesday, June 11. [Photo courtesy Sierra Club]

Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, spoke passionately about the establishment of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument at Star Hall on Tuesday, June 11.

Brune is on family road trip from their home in Alameda, Calif., to visit both recently established national monuments, as well as those that have been proposed.

The Outdoor Industry Association sent President Barack Obama a letter in November 2012 asking him to create the Greater Canyonlands National Monument by presidential proclamation. The proposed national monument would include 1.4 million acres surrounding Canyonlands National Park that are now managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Canyonlands National Park is now 337,570 acres.

Postcards addressed to the White House and containing a message requesting the establishment of a national monument because the “area is suffering from management conflicts between the National Park Service, BLM and Forest Service” were handed out to the audience at Star Hall.

The evening event opened with a presentation by John Davis, founder of Wildlands Network. Davis is now on a “muscle-powered” 5,000-mile journey from Sonora, Mexico to British Columbia, Canada. He is walking, hiking, biking and kayaking his way north.

The goal of Wildlands Network is to create corridors that allow wildlife to move freely and safely.

Davis referred to the border wall between the United States and Mexico.

“People can climb it in one minute,” he said. “Wildlife cannot pass at all.”

He gave a hearty endorsement of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument proposal, citing it as an example of increasing wildspaces for wildlife.

“We look forward to seeing it to fruition,” Davis said.

Brune took the stage and spoke about the road trip he is taking with his wife and three young children to “highlight the amazing places to be protected in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.”

After leaving Moab, Brune was scheduled to visit Brown’s Canyon and Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado; Rio del Norte National Monument in New Mexico; and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Chimney Rock and Rio del Norte national monuments were recently established by presidential proclamation by Obama.

While in the Moab-area Brune visited Dead Horse Point State Park, Mill Creek and Mineral Bottom. He also took a flight above the PR Springs area in the Book Cliffs north of Moab that are now be leased by U.S. Oil Sands for tar sands mining.

“If I were to describe our trip to Moab I would say ‘awesome’ and ‘terrifying’. Terrifying because (at Dead Horse Point) we could see gas flares a few miles down the road, and tar sands development to the north,” Brune said. “This is one of the most ecologically important places. Why are we doing oil drilling and tar sands?”

He referred to recent climate change issues.

“We passed the 400 ppm threshold for air quality. We have record fires, record droughts. We had a tornado two miles wide,” Brune said.

He said that to prevent increasing global warming by more than two degree Celsius, that 80 percent of known reserves of coal, gas and oil “have to stay in the ground.”

“Despite all the grim things I was sharing, I have a lot of optimism to meet this challenge,” Brune said. “Over the last five to ten years we’ve seen a grassroots movement of teachers, students, economists, activists and business owners. It’s beginning to turn the tide against fossil fuel dependence.”

Brune is the author of “Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal”, a book published by the Sierra Club.

He referred to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, which was a response to President George Bush’s 2001 proposal to build 200 coal-fired power plants across the country.

“We learned how to challenge a coal plant,” he said. “We defeated coal plants in Florida, Texas, Chicago. All that is due to grassroots activists.”

In an interview before the lecture, Brune said that when you mention “Sierra Club” there is usually one of two responses.

“To some you’re automatically one of the ‘good guys’. To some folks, you’re wearing horns. You’re the coastal elite coming to take their home away,” he said.

Brune said that he had spoken with Congress man Rob Bishop regarding the Public Land Initiative. Bishop has invited several public lands stakeholders to “bring resolution to some of the most challenging land disputes in the state,” according to a letter he sent regarding the initiative.

“We’re open to cooperate with eyes wide open,” Brune said. “See if we can find some common ground.”

However, he said that he plans to continue to push for the Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

“Our belief is that the establishment of a national monument by presidential proclamation is the best and most politically viable way,” Brune said.

“Being downstream from many threats by the fossil fuel industry, it was very encouraging to hear the head of the Sierra Club promoting non-violent civil disobedience and direct action,” said Kate Finneran of the non-profit organization Before It Starts, which has been protesting the proposed tar sands mining in the Book Cliffs north of Moab. “The time will come soon when we’ll have to stand up as a community and draw a line in the sand when it comes to projects like tar sands, and I think it was good for the town to hear about other groups willing to put their bodies on the line for what is morally right.”

Grand County councilman Lynn Jackson said that Brune’s comments were “devastating.”

Jackson and the county council have been working with Congressman Rob Bishop to develop legislation to solve public land conflicts. He said that San Juan, Emery, Uintah and Wayne county councils, as well as sportsman groups and conservation groups have been working together to offer protection to areas within the proposed national monument, and are looking at the options of creating 1.5 million acres of wilderness area and considering either a national conservation area or national recreation area instead of a national monument.

“He did a horrible amount of damage to the process we’ve been working on,” Jackson said. “For him to come into town and give the audience a 100 percent guarantee that a monument is going to happen makes me furious. If there is a deal cut on this monument, why are we trying to work on the congressman’s land bill?”