The Public Lands Council (PLC) last week launched an ill-advised attack on outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, which went public with its opposition to the Trump Administration’s recent decision to decrease Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by more than 80% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly one-half.
As CNN reported, Bears Ears, which was designated by President Obama in December 2016, will be split into two separate sections, shrinking its size from 1.35 million acres to just 228,337 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated by President Bill Clinton and where scientists have unearthed more than 20 new dinosaur species since 1996, will be split into three sections and shrunk from 1.9 million acres to just about one million acres.
President Trump criticized both previous administrations for what he called “federal overreach,” arguing that those presidents thought Utah’s natural resources “should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They are wrong.”
Bears Ears includes many examples of ancient rock art, as well as the ruins of dwellings and ceremonial sites with historical and cultural significance to several Native American tribes. Grand Staircase contains significant geologic sites, dinosaur fossils and cultural sites also important to Native Americans.
When the downsizing of the monuments was announced, California-based Patagonia issued a statement calling the move “the largest elimination of protected land in American history” and joined a lawsuit filed in the D.C. District Court by a group of 10 conservation groups, including such heavyweights as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.
Another lawsuit was filed separately by a coalition of the Hopi, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Ute Indian tribes also seeking an injunction against the downsizing.
In response, PLC decided to distribute iron-on patches designed to cover the logo on Patagonia merchandise to cure what the organization is calling “Patagonia Shame.”
“Patagonia’s actions are a pure marketing play disguised as concern for western landscapes,” said Ethan Lane, PLC’s executive director. “Many Patagonia customers would be ashamed to learn the corporation prioritized its own profits over the wishes of local communities who were harmed by national monument designations.”
The patches are a clever idea, but the council is choosing the wrong message.
First of all, you’d have to search to find any Patagonia customers who are ashamed that the company that not only supplies the clothing and gear they use to pursue the outdoor sports and activities they love, but also donates significant amounts of money to environmental causes, is pushing back against the loss of protected public lands.
Patagonia’s customers are cheering on the company, not cringing in shame.
Second, the administration’s downsizing proposal triggered a flood of comments from the public — you know, the people who actually own the monuments — with the overwhelming majority adamantly opposed to the removal of protected status. According to news reports, some 685,000 comments and petitions supporting Bears Ears were submitted to the Department of the Interior in just a shortened 15-day comment period back in May.
That’s likely a lot more people than those who might iron on a Patagonia shame patch.
Third, nobody’s fooled by statements from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who argued that the former monument land “will remain open to the public.” A commentary in Forbes magazine, hardly a lefty eco-rag, put it bluntly: “Drilling for oil and gas — which very much appears to be the plan — by definition, shuts off access to land.”
The commentary went on to note that, “This favor shown to the oil and gas companies also demonstrates where this administration stands in regard to the nation’s hunters and anglers. The shrinking of the Monuments — most of which allow hunting and fishing — comes at the expense of the American public, in general, and American sportsmen, in specific.”
Sportsmen and women are a demographic with which PLC should be allied, not attacking.
And finally, here’s one last thought to consider. The most important — and meaningful — aspect that distinguishes animal agriculture from the extraction industries that also depend greatly on access to public lands is sustainability. Along with all the economic and nutritional benefits of raising livestock to produce meat and milk products, the business of animal husbandry, properly managed, can continue indefinitely.
Grass grows on rangeland year after year. Cattle, sheep and goats can thrive on renewable grasslands year after year. Unlike drilling for finite supplies of oil, or mining finite amounts of coal or minerals, livestock production is truly a renewable, sustainable enterprise.
Ranchers and producers should thus be philosophically, if not politically, aligned with proponents of other activities that sustain the stewardship of public lands, and that includes hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, outdoor recreation and eco-tourism. All of them create significant economic impact for rural areas and the local businesses that often have few other options to remain profitable.
In contrast, oil exploration and mining may provide some jobs in the short-term, but choosing to sacrifice the natural beauty and cultural significance of public lands so multinational corporations can capture equally short-term profits — by shipping much of the coal, oil and minerals overseas to Asia, let’s not forget — is the equivalent of what colonial farmers did centuries ago: cut down forests, plow up the soil, harvest the crops, and when the soil’s exhausted, move on.
Only when forests, parks and rangelands are exploited by extractive industries these days, there’s no moving on to other vast, untapped sources.
Like the resources that fossil fuel and mining companies typically “harvest” for pennies on the dollar of what they’re actually worth, our public lands are neither limitless nor replaceable.
The future lies in protection of public lands and promotion of recreational activities — and grazing rights — on public lands, and all of animal agriculture ought to get on board that sustainability bandwagon.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.