I grew up kayaking and hiking at Pinecrest Lake in the Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. The 2013 Rim Fire cut my summer trip to Pinecrest short when ash choked the air. But the most alarming menace to America’s public lands is not a natural force like a wild fire but our human desire to dissect and destroy a landscape for profit.
Climbers, skiers, hikers, river-runners and all outdoor sportsmen and women have immense untapped potential in the battles for public lands and environmental protection. Every outdoor enthusiast feels a personal connection to a favorite place and supports local environmental movements. But the real power of this community can expand beyond grassroots campaigns that seek to protect a crag or clean up a river.
Outdoor recreation industry leader Peter Metcalf’s recent challenge to Utah’s anti-public land officials shows real political clout. The call by Metcalf to remove the Outdoor Retailer biannual trade shows from Utah would cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue. The individual actions of Utah’s recreationists carry this same weight. The state officials’ threat to public lands in Utah will undoubtedly encourage resident outdoor recreationists to consider new homes in communities that value the environment just as much as they do. Out-of-state recreationists who once considered Utah for a home will likely look to alternative states that do not put pressure on wild places.
The Bears Ears National Monument is the perfect battleground for environmentally conscious recreationists to flex their collective political muscle. In the months preceding the monument’s proclamation, nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and the Access Fund gathered member support for the monument’s creation. Now, as Utah officials campaign to undo the designation, recreationists will have another chance to unite and take part in political action. Rock climbers from the Pacific Northwest and hikers from the Southeast recognize that the loss of protection of one piece of public land sets up the potential for further loss. At Bears Ears, the undoing of a national monument would be a disastrous precedent for all of America’s wild lands. In a way, protecting Bears Ears protects our local open spaces.
Outdoor recreationists must continue to fight for the places they love. But today’s political climate demands cooperation for progress and policy can threaten lives as well as lands. Pollution, threats to water supplies, and food insecurity are issues as reprehensible as loss of public and protected land. Recreationists must rally behind these causes with the same vigor they give to public lands protection. Expanding the scope of environmental issues for outdoor enthusiasts will lend the community’s considerable strength to righteous causes. More importantly, this will establish trust and cooperation with the populations that provide essential support for the creation of monuments like Bears Ears. Outdoor recreationists, ranchers and community members all require healthy environments. Campaigning for a multitude of environmental causes will unite these groups.
Not every person can participate in every worthy environmental cause. Not every outdoor enthusiast can become a full-time activist. But each person who uses the outdoors for happiness can give back time or money to at least one environmental cause. As recreationists, the nonhuman world sustains us and we must do our best to sustain it in return.
Woody Guthrie said it best, “This land is your land, this land is my land.” It is time we start treating land in this way.
Dan Hohl is a graduate student at the University of Utah in the Environmental Humanities Master’s program. He is passionate about understanding how people relate to and understand the natural world, especially through outdoor recreation.