An Open Letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park south of Moab, Utah. Photo credit: Quint Nyman

Introduction

– Quint Nyman, Co-Chair of the Montana Union Sportsmen Alliance

This last Sunday morning I was scrolling through one of my favorite Facebook pages that showcases Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and was a bit surprised to see a post addressed to the Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. This page generally does a good job of steering away from politics, which is a bit surprising given the issues surrounding the monument and the now designated Bears Ears Monument right next door. I must admit that I’ve never been to the Grand Staircase, but I’m ready to go the minute the opportunity arises. Compared to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Escalante looks to be far more remote and challenging in its terrain and hikes. This also means fewer people compared to the two beautiful national parks.

Nyman with his family in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park south of Moab, Utah

I was introduced to this area of Southern Utah in 1989 when I was a first year fire fighter and was sent to Moab to fight a fire in the Four Corners area. District Court Judge Mike Menahan was my Engine Boss at the time and had already spent a great deal of time down there. Mike proved to be a fantastic guide of the area as we traveled to the fire. I saw my first cliff dwellings, experienced a landscape that I’d only seen in John Wayne movies to this point and realized I was standing in the middle of an area of a historic value beyond anything I’d ever seen in the United States. Since that time I’ve made several trips south to hike and soak up the spring time sun in the desert. I would recommend the trip in the spring or fall rather than confronting the heat of summer and a forest fire, your appreciation will be far greater. If you’ve never been- GO! Go to Arches, Canyonlands, Escalante, and any other area you can get into. Get some red dirt in your boots, sun burn your arms, drink beer by a Juniper fire in the dark and marvel at the clarity of the night sky above with no street lights. You’re mind and soul will be better for it.

After reading the open letter to Zinke, I did some research and many believe Escalante and Bears Ears will be one of his first visits given its level of importance and potential for even more political fallout. While we here in Montana are keenly aware of all that we value in public lands, those folks down south could be considered at the tip of the spear on this issue. So read on and stay tuned in!

An open letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke

The following letter originally appeared in The Independent

Dear Secretary Ryan Zinke,

As a long-time resident of Kanab, Utah and a small business owner, I am appalled at the recent decision my county commissioners made on February 6th regarding the resolution to diminish the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Likewise, I am heartily disappointed in Representative Noel’s sponsorship of the H.C.R. 12 bill to reduce the boundaries of the Monument. To be very clear, I support Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I appreciate the protections it affords to the many sensitive resources contained within its boundaries. For many reasons, I want to see it remain as it is and continue to be protected.

The monument is a huge part of my life and identity. I became an employee of the monument when I was in high school. I worked for the monument seasonally as a biology intern, and later became permanently employed as a backcountry ranger. Though I am no longer employed with the BLM, I continue to stay connected to my former co-workers and to the landscape. I occasionally volunteer on ranger patrols and was recently contracted to write environmental education curriculum to help connect the students in our county to the wonders of the monument.

As an employee of Kane County’s rural school district, I’m sensitive to the reality that most students here do not have access to natural history museums, but they do benefit from living near some of the most exciting paleontological sites in the country. Students from our county can discover and hold ancient pottery shards in their hands, gaze at the geology of the staircase that gives our monument its name, and are fortunate to have local experts in these fields willing to speak to them in their classrooms.

As a college student, I worked on the monument fighting wild-land fires, packing out campfire ashes, monitoring sites, scrubbing outhouse toilets, tracking bighorn sheep, inventorying migratory birds, and assisting in Search and Rescue operations to pay my college tuition while working towards my degree. I have spent hundreds of days exploring this monument with friends and family, each time rediscovering my values while diving into the depths of wildness. As a mother of two small children, the monument is where we escape the confines of our house. This is where my children learn about rocks, plants, water, ecosystems, ancient cultures, and extinct animals. This place represents some of my greatest life lessons, my children’s education, my connections to loved ones, and gives me a deep-seated sense of place. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is all of the these things, and it also helps support my livelihood.

I own and operate a small vacation rental business in Kane County. This business depends on tourism, and every year I have customers who make this region their base to explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well as Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon national parks. My family depends on the income I earn from the many guests who visit my vacation rental. The people who stay at the Kaibab Casita rave about this high-desert haven — the night stars, the sunrises, and the red cliffs! Here is a sample of words some of my guests have written at the completion of their respective visits:

“We felt at home in the desert from the moment we arrived, which will make leaving that much harder. I’ll never forget what this month in Kanab gave to my body, mind, and soul. Our excursions in Escalante, restful evenings, delicious food; so much good stuff.” —Dave Deliema (Los Angeles, CA)

“Stars at night, sunrises in the morning. Lick and Willis Creek slots and driving canyon roads — just scratching the surface.” —Rich and Debbie Basinger (Portland, OR)

“Thank you so much for a wonderful stay in southwest Utah! The casita was the perfect home away from home for us. The accommodations and warm hospitality made this an oasis after long days of hiking with our family. Your love for and knowledge of this magical region is impressive and deeply appreciated, as we so loved our nearby hikes to the Toadstools and Lick Wash among others. Your advice and expertise on Zion, Bryce, and GSENM added so much to our experience of these areas and saved much hassle as well. This is our first trip to Southern Utah and it has been nothing short of extraordinary. Coming from Chicago where our monuments are of the architectural kind, spending a week in this glorious, magical part of our nation was a revelation. Each day and each destination offered unspeakable beauty and awe-inspiring sites. Although this was our first visit to the area, it won’t be our last, and we look forward to returning to the casita to explore new adventures and create more enduring memories.” —Steve and Andrea Edwards (Oak Park, IL)

Our community is fortunate to have a monument that brings vitality to our hometown. During the past two decades, Kanab has experienced longer tourist seasons while more and more businesses have opened up. I feel certain the monument has played a large role in this. I invite you to visit our community and others that surround the monument. Come see our grocery stores, our bookstores and coffee shops, our restaurants, and other related businesses. The health of our economy and community depends on the monument’s continued existence. I also encourage you to lace up your hiking boots and scale the Vermillion Cliffs to Flag Point to witness the convergence of paleontology and archeology, head up Hackberry Canyon to hear the running water and canyon birds sing, visit the Paria River and Cockscomb Fold to see the contours of colors, and drive the desolate miles of the Smoky Mountain Road to see if you can find my favorite high point to survey the Kapariowits Plateau and all the rugged country surrounding it. Learn for yourself what this monument represents in the hearts of those who have spent years as its neighbor and of those who visit it for just a day or two but still feel the deep touch of its beauty.

Unfortunately, the days of discovering untamed and undeveloped places are gone forever. Wild places will only remain wild because humans choose to protect them. This is why it is even more imperative for us to allow monuments like Grand Staircase and Bears Ears to remain as they are with the protections they need to ensure their longevity. To do anything contrary to this sets a dangerous precedent for our public lands that will be hard to recover from. We cannot continue to use up and destroy our vital resources. I want my children to have clean air, clean water, and wild places to visit. They need to know the intrinsic value of their world and feel the humility of being in a grand landscape. It’s important for all of us to feel small in the greatness of our vibrant planet. Not only do I want this for my children, I want it for the children who will inherit the world in the decades and centuries to come. This is why I will continue to defend these monuments and other public land, and why I ask you to do the same.

Conservation is not a partisan issue. The Antiquities Act was supported in the house and senate by both Democrats and Republicans and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Through the Antiquities Act, our leaders from both parties, nearly equally, have secured for future generations some of our greatest national treasures over one hundred times. Since 1906, the constitutionality of the Antiquities Act has been upheld by the Supreme Court on several occasions. Teddy Roosevelt remains one of our greatest champions for conservation, and I hope that one day I can say the same about you.

Sincerely,

Megan Smith

Kanab, UT

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Ztinky, as you can see I am not a nice guy to people that have no clue about how we native Mantanans feel towards our gift from THE CREATOR!!! In your new position you can do a lot of good for us or try to sell our beautiful state to others that only see dollar signs DO THE RIGHT THING!!!

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