Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune visited Moab last week, in what he said was the “classic American tradition of the family road trip,” to raise awareness about the need to protect public lands, and to generate support for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
“For generations, Americans have loaded up the car and headed out on a summer family road trip,” Brune said. “I want my kids to experience the beauty and wonder of the Southwest, and to understand the value these public lands hold and why they must be preserved for all to explore, enjoy and protect.”
During his stay, Brune visited Canyonlands National Park and toured the adjacent Big Flat oil field, which he called a “double tragedy.”
The first tragedy, he said, is the degradation of the view and the landscape. The second is the state of Utah’s promotion and reliance on the development of fossil fuels.
“The state of Utah has been the most inept in accelerating the clean energy economy,” he said. “Almost every state but Utah is growing dramatically in clean energy, but here there is a rush to extract fossil fuels when we know the jobs won’t last. Only the damage will.”
Brune also attended a public showing of Justin Clifton’s film, “Our Canyonlands,” at Star Hall on Tuesday, June 16, and participated in a subsequent panel discussion moderated by Mathew Gross of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).
In opening remarks to more than 100 people, Brune took the conversation beyond land preservation. He outlined his organization’s work promoting clean energy development, and said that the environmental movement is “growing, becoming more inclusive, more integrative and more effective.”
“I’m profoundly optimistic,” he said. “We are making enormous progress all across the country and all across the world when it comes to climate change.”
In addition to Clifton and Brune, panelists at the event included Zuni Pueblo A:shiwi A:wan Museum Director Jim Enote and Natasha Hale, the Grand Canyon Trust’s Native American program manager.
In addition to protecting Greater Canyonlands, the panel also talked about a proposal to designate a Bears Ears National Monument that overlaps with the Canyonlands proposal in San Juan County.
Bears Ears would protect 1.9 million acres of land rich with scenic, archaeological and cultural significance. Hale said that 23 different Native American tribes were collaborating to formalize a proposal.
“As tribes, we don’t think collectively about things the same way,” Hale said. “But it was amazing to see all the tribes agree that this was a place that we need to protect.”
Enote said that the Bears Ears proposal was “monumental.”
“This speaks to adjusting, recognizing and dealing with the asymmetry of powers,” he said. “Native people, and other people of color have been left out of the conversation surrounding conservation.”
Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson said there wasn’t much to say about the event.
“I’m sure it was similar to their meeting two years ago: Mr. Brune coming to Moab for photo ops and press, speaking to members in Moab about their agenda, and generally trying to foster support,” he said.
The Sierra Club, along with a coalition of conservation groups, including the SUWA and Grand Canyon Trust, has been lobbying the Obama administration to designate a 1.8-million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
They say that much of the area surrounding the current Canyonlands National Park is threatened by oil, gas and potash development, and that protection for the area shouldn’t have been removed from the original park proposal.
“These are world-class areas that deserve protection,” Brune told the Moab Sun News. “The Greater Canyonlands proposal fits largely within the original proposal for Canyonlands National Park. Fifty years from now, will people be glad we protected a million acres, or will they be glad we built pipelines through it and drilled for oil?”
Moab resident Curtis Wells told the Moab Sun News that many of the perceived threats were exaggerated or were based on misinformation.
“A foundation built on emotion and speculation is no place for the creation and implementation of public policy,” he said.
Wells said that monuments aren’t amenable to multiple use and the economic benefits associated with natural resource development.
“A Greater Canyonlands National Monument designation is a cookie-cutter approach to solving problems that will benefit a few to the detriment of many,” Wells said.
Brune said that monument designation is only one avenue that the Sierra Club is using to provide greater protection for public lands. He said his organization has been participating in the Public Lands Initiative process but that after two years they are still waiting to see something come of it.
“We’re waiting to see some real progress on the PLI,” Brune said. “We are willing to broker a thoughtful, respectful compromise, but we need to be met halfway, and thus far that hasn’t happened.”
Jackson said that he suspects his idea of compromise and the Sierra Club’s are miles apart.
“I have yet to see what I would consider a reasonable compromise from the Sierra Club,” Jackson said. “We’ll just have to wait and see as the PLI unfolds on the next congressional and regional level.”
The Sierra Club, formed by John Muir in 1892, is one of the oldest environmental organizations in the world. Its mission is, “To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources.”
Brune said the organization has members in every state and that more than 10,000 volunteers are responsible for its success.
“Part of our mission is to get people out to enjoy nature,” he said. “We believe when people spend time in nature they are more willing to want to protect it.”
Michael Brune also promotes renewable energy during Moab visit
Fifty years from now, will people be glad we protected a million acres, or will they be glad we built pipelines through it and drilled for oil?