Newsletter Archive

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah                                                                                          (Mike Painter)

July 4, 2020

Dear CalUWild Friend & Supporters—

The last few months have been a difficult and trying time here in the United States (and the world as a whole). Covid-19 has had profound effects on the country and the world, affecting many people on a personal level, dealing with their own health or that of family and friends. It has forced profound shifts in social behavior, employment, and the economy, and many people are finding it difficult to adapt to them.

At the same time there is political and social unrest brought about by our society’s failure to address longstanding problems of policing and other social injustices, as well as an administration that seems to delight in disregarding every norm of good governance.

The Fourth of July seems like a good time to take a break from our regular activities and reflect a bit. (Though please note there are two Action Items in the Press listings, which can be accomplished quickly with one phone call.)

At first glance these various social issues might seem to have little or no relevance to wilderness and public lands. But a closer look uncovers myriad connections to be aware of and which can guide our work.

The most fundamental connection is the fact that all of our public (and private) land in the U.S. was taken from Indigenous peoples, one way or another. There is no controverting that fact. Indigenous people have been completely shut out of management and decision-making regarding the land where they once lived.

This is why the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is so significant. It’s the first time that Native American tribes came together successfully with a proposal to the federal government to protect a landscape of great significance to them. The conservation community supported their efforts wholeheartedly, and purposely allowed the tribes to take the lead. We are learning now that Indigenous knowledge can contribute to proper land management. A co-management scheme between the tribes and the federal government was supposed to have been implemented, but this administration nixed that when it shrank the Bears Ears by 85%. Our hope is that changes will be made in the future, allowing the tribes a real voice in the management of a restored monument.

Working with the tribes has made many people more aware of other situations affecting them. Political representation in San Juan County, Utah, where a majority of citizens are Navajo, has shifted following redistricting cases fought in the courts. Navajos now have two out of the three seats on the County Council. Their votes will affect public land policy in the county going forward.

The killing of George Floyd and others has sparked an intense look at policing here in the U.S. It has also initiated a movement to hopefully once and for all come to grips with the continuing reminders in present-day America of slavery, the Confederacy, and exploitation of Indigenous peoples. Statues of prominent Confederate officials and others dominate the news, but there are other examples, too.

Here in California, it turns out that Southern sympathizers decided to commemorate the 1863 sinking of a Union ship by a Confederate warship, naming the Alabama Hills after the Confederate ship. The Hills are in the Owens Valley, at the foot of the Eastern Sierra and are an important cultural area for local Indigenous peoples. They have no relationship to Alabama other than their name. Although Congress recently designated the Hills a national scenic area, a campaign is getting underway to rename them now.

(A footnote to that story: The Alabama continued destroying Union trading ships in oceans around the world. In 1864 in Cherbourg, France, it met up with an American warship, the Kearsarge, which in turn sank it. Union supporters got their revenge by naming Kearsarge Peak, some miles north of the Alabama Hills.)

However, there are also day-to-day, personal challenges facing Black Americans and other underrepresented groups on our public lands. Many don’t feel safe or particularly welcome. They look around and don’t see many people who look like them. They are sometimes threatened by White people whose dogs are off-leash or for other unjustified reasons. Some lack the economic means to travel, while others don’t have the family history of camping, hiking, or visiting our National Parks and other special places. There is an unfortunate view among many that conservation is a “Whites-only” endeavor. Conservation organizations have only relatively recently started to correct this through outreach to underserved communities, both in their hiring and in their programs. (The Sierra Club has had an Inner City Outings program—since renamed—since 1976.)

In recent years, groups such as Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors have started up to bring members of their communities in contact with the outdoors and public lands. We support their efforts and encourage you to learn more about them.

But concern for these issues stretches up to the highest levels of our government, too. The Department of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And as we just saw in the photo-op incident at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, the National Park Police have an urban law enforcement presence, which they aren’t afraid to turn against generally peaceful protestors, for political ends.

Finally, as demographics in the U.S. change, and proportions of non-White citizens grow, they will have increasing political clout. Our public lands will continue to require a constituency to defend them. We need to bring as many different communities into the discussion as possible.

CalUWild from the beginning has encouraged our members to be engaged personally and actively, saying we are as much pro-democracy as we are pro-wilderness. It is our hope that our members will use the tools we provide to influence decision makers on these other matters, as well. But despite all these other important issues, our work continues to be relevant, too, because when the public health situation gets somewhat back to normal and we make progress on the social justice front, we will still need wild places. But regardless of any public lands connections, we simply owe it to all our fellow citizens—and all inhabitants of the Earth—to see that they are treated fairly and with respect by those in power and by society at large.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive listing or discussion of all the possible issues. Rather these are simply thoughts that have accumulated over the last weeks and months, providing some ideas for our consideration.

There have been quite a few articles in the press expounding on or illustrating some of these issues. As always, if a link is broken or otherwise inaccessible, please send me an email, and I’ll fix it or send you a PDF copy. Inclusion of an item in this section does not imply agreement with the viewpoint expressed.

An article in Scientific American: Black Birders Call Out Racism, Say Nature Should Be for Everyone

An article in Hatch Magazine: Thoughts on the killing of George Floyd: Systemic racism is everywhere. Even in the great outdoors.

An op-ed by Jeremy Miller in Sierra: Why Does the National Park Service Have a SWAT Force?

An article in The Hill: Interior secretary: Park Police faced ‘state of siege’ at Lafayette protests

More from The Hill: Internal watchdog probing Park Police actions toward Lafayette Square protesters

An article in the Washington Post: Congress begins probe into federal officers’ use of force to clear protesters near Lafayette Square

ABC News had an article: America’s national parks face existential crisis over race. CalUWild friend Audrey Peterman and her husband are interviewed.

An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: Could the racist past of Mt. Rushmore’s creator bring down the monument?

An article in National Parks Traveler: Blackfeet Nation Closes Glacier National Park Border Over Covid Concerns

Press articles on other issues of note appearing in the last month:

The Administration

An article in The Hill: ‘Gutted’ Interior agency moves out West with top posts unfilled

An article in The Hill: Interior move keeping controversial acting leaders in office faces legal scrutiny

The administration has officially nominated William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management. He’s been in an unconfirmed acting capacity for many months now. The Washington Post’s Energy 202 blog takes a look at his upcoming confirmation: Trump’s nomination of public lands manager tees up tough vote in the Senate. Mr. Pendley has said he doesn’t believe the federal government should be owning any land, though he claims his personal view won’t influence his job as BLM head. He’s also been quoted making dismissive comments about the Black Lives Matter movement (the “other” BLM).

An op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune: Energy dominance agenda threatens our Western way of life. One of the authors is CalUWild friend Nada Culver at the National Audubon Society.

In Utah

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune: Regulations finally coming for scenic air tours over Utah’s national parks, but not all pilots like the idea

A piece by Bill McKibben in The New Yorker: A Guy Named Craig May Soon Have Control Over a Large Swath of Utah

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune: Utah gave group $400,000 to sue the feds on public lands issues. It never did. What happened?

In California

An article in the Los Angeles Times: Federal approval of oil well at Carrizo Plain National Monument sparks outrage


An article in the Nevada Appeal: U.S. Senate committee drops plans to expand Fallon, Nellis training ranges. This week, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R) introduced an amendment to the House version of the Defense Authorization Act supporting the expansion. Please call your House representative and urge them to vote NO on this provision. California contact information may be found here.

In Oregon

An article from Reuters: Trump pardons Oregon ranchers who inspired refuge standoff

The West

An article in the New York Times on the writer Wallace Stegner: Wallace Stegner and the Conflicted Soul of the West

National Monuments & Parks

An article in the Washington Post: Trump lifts limits on commercial fishing at ocean sanctuary off New England. The boundaries of the monument were not affected.

An article in Outside Online: The 8 Most Endangered National Parks

In General (ACTION ITEM)

The Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which contains a provision for permanent and full annual funding of the Land & Water Conservation Fund. This has been one of CalUWild’s longest-running issues. The House is considering a companion bill. An article from Courthouse News: Senate Passes Public Lands Bill in Rare Show of Bipartisanship. Please call your House representative and urge them to vote YES on this bill. California contact information may be found here.

An op-ed in the New York Times: The Misunderstood, Maligned Rattlesnake

A blog post on Legal Planet: Jefferson’s Bridge: Anticipating modern environmental views, Jefferson viewed nature as a public trust.


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