Since reading Dan Murphy’s latest editorial, “Murphy: Bad Move for the Wrong Reasons,” I have been wrestling with one incontrovertible fact – when making a political argument, the most thoughtfully executed strategy is often outshone by the sheer blissful ignorance of one’s opposition. It is evident from Mr. Murphy’s writing that he is unaware of how badly he has missed the mark. In a mere 968 words, he managed to demonstrate precisely how tone-deaf defenders of these monuments are - both to impacted rural communities and the very resources they seek to protect.
His arguments cover the full range of environmental activist paranoia on this issue. There is a lot to unpack, but in the interest of time I will endeavor to address the highlights.
First, he asserts that “Patagonia’s customers are cheering on the company, not cringing in shame.” I have no doubt that among his social and professional circles this rings true. He probably doesn’t talk to a lot of ranchers, or rural folks period, and the view of this issue from a micro-brewery in a coastal enclave is dramatically different than from a ranch house in Southern Utah.
The fact is, rural communities across the west feel that Patagonia is attacking them and dismissing their concerns. The patches were created out of necessity. Many people paid dearly for their Patagonia coats and enjoy the quality of their products, but wearing them sends a clear signal to anyone impacted by a national monument designation that their opinion does not count for as much as the “public” writ large. (As an aside, we sold out of patches completely in about 72 hours. We apologize for any delay as we await our reorder.)
This brings me to his second point, that public sentiment and comment on this issue is heavily in Patagonia’s favor, and therefore inherently righteous. You can hear it in his reference to the “overwhelming majority” of commenters during the comment period earlier this year. Never mind that those voluminous public comments were largely from emails generated by a handful of well-funded activist groups like Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society (“heavyweights” as Mr. Murphy describes them), most with little understanding or regard for the impact of these designations at the local level. In his view of the world the majority rules – however far removed - and the little guy must suck it up and deal with it. Unfortunately for these groups, federal comment periods are supposed to focus on substantive comments and lend additional weight to those with specific knowledge of the issue at hand. In other words, comment periods are not a “vote,” no matter how badly environmental activists wish they were.
Finally, we come to the most egregious of Murphy’s arguments – that somehow restoring the true multiple use status of these federal lands is going to provide less access for the public than a heavily restricted national monument. To his credit, he avoided Patagonia’s shameful lie that “The President Stole Your Land,” choosing instead to repeat the incredulous claim that this whole effort is about some vast untapped oil and gas reserve. The implication being that we as an industry will be put out of business by a balanced multiple use approach and must cling for survival to green “decoy” groups masquerading as sportsmen and the environmental behemoths that quietly fund them. The fact is that the rural agricultural base (read: livestock grazing) in Escalante-Grand Staircase has declined by at least 40% since 1996. That’s not the oil industry’s fault; it lies at the feet of the same environmental community that has been pushing to put ranchers out of business (while telling them how important they are) for decades now. At the very least, one would think these groups would be supportive of a basic environmental and economic review process before such an impactful decision is made.
Living in Washington, DC as I do, it is easy to understand how Mr. Murphy has been so misled about the true implications of process-free, special interest driven use of the Antiquities Act. But, as a fellow urban-dweller, I strongly recommend he set down the craft brew, step out of his bubble, and show the slightest bit of respect for the local residents that steward our vast open spaces for him between visits.
Editor's Note: The opinions presented here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Farm Journal.