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36 Hours in Bluff: On the Road Towards a Bears Ears National Monument

Ron Hunter  /  July 22, 2016  /  5 Min Read  /  Activism

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visits an archaeological site on her morning hike with Friends of Cedar Mesa, guided by Josh Ewing and Vaughn Hadenfelt. After the hike, Secretary Jewell said, “What I have seen on this trip, and especially here, is this incredible treasure trove of cultural resources. It’s beyond imagination. I am also shocked at the lack of protection for many of these assets.” Photo: Josh Ewing

Time was short. It was Wednesday afternoon when my boss talked to his boss who finally gave us the green light to book a Friday flight to Salt Lake City. Then it was a crack of dawn departure from Reno to SLC, where I met Jared, Patagonia’s Social Media Producer who flew in from Ventura, before running by our store to pick up Joe and Jon, the environmental point people for Patagonia’s Salt Lake City Outlet. We packed up our rental car in the store parking lot and were off for the six-hour drive down to Bluff.

We were on a mission to do a first-ever Patagonia livestream of a pivotal meeting between the Obama administration and the public which would help determine the fate of 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah called Bears Ears. We were also there to support the conservation and tribal groups that want to see permanent protection of this unique and beautiful area.

Patagonia has supported the Bears Ears Coalition through several years of environmental grants and clothing donations, as well as last year’s, Defined by the Line, a short film about climber Josh Ewing and his story of converting a passion for climbing into a passion for protecting Bears Ears.

We rolled into Bluff about 4 p.m. and the temperature registered 106 degrees. We scored a last-minute motel room thanks to our friends at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, but instead of letting us rest, Jared immediately set off to find an Internet hot spot for our Periscope interviews at the public meeting the next day. Joe, Jon and I went over to the Friends of Cedar Mesa office to hook up with Josh Ewing who put us to work making pro-monument signs for next day’s event.

Photo: Ron Hunter

7:00 a.m., 98 degrees in the shade: Jared, Joe and Jon finalize the interview schedule they would soon abandon when their Internet signal was overtaken by the 1,500-person crowd. Photo: Ron Hunter

Photo: Jared Muscat

We arrived at the Bluff Community Center at 7:45 a.m. expecting to tie our posters up all around the fence, but the opposition out flanked us and we were left with just this tiny corner. Good thing it had a great view behind it and a good signal above it. Photo: Jared Muscat

Photo: Jared Muscat

Joe takes a photo of Patagonia ambassadors Caroline Gleich and Kitty Calhoun, and Ron, at the first interview location, seconds before our signal went down. You can read Kitty’s plea to protect Bears Ears here and wach a timelapse video of Caroline painting her sign here. Photo: Jared Muscat

The public meeting hosted by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture was billed as a “listening session” where interested people had a chance to address Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other land management officials. Approximately 1,500 individuals from throughout the four corners region were in attendance with roughly 1,000 being clearly in support of a national monument and roughly 500 expressing opposition. Of the approximately 60 individuals who spoke, very few were opposed to protection of the area but opinions varied about the preferred method of protection—either a national monument or the Utah delegation’s newly introduced Public Lands Initiative (PLI) legislation.

Photo: Joe Ballandby

Veterans from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition ride into the hearing on horseback. It was an emotional moment. Photo: Joe Ballandby

Photo: Jared Muscat

The pro-monument side truly worked as a community providing each other with water, support and freshly made food. We never got to try the fry bread, but it smelled delicious and the women making it were both nice and hilarious. Photo: Jared Muscat

Our Periscope streams started at about 9:30 a.m. and ran throughout the day. We did 12 live interviews outside the meeting while Jon was inside texting quotes to Jared who shared them on our Twitter feed. After the first interview, the crowds came and bogged down our signal. We switched to Plan B and found a second signal from which we could conduct the rest of our interviews. The 102-degree weather wasn’t kind to Jared’s phone, causing it to overheat a couple of times, so Joe would run back to the motel room for ice packs.

Photo: Jon Carter

Secretary Jewell was observant and diligent throughout the hearing. Jon commented, “I don’t think she put down her pen once.” Photo: Jon Carter

Photo: Jared Muscat

Friends of Cedar Mesa, The Wilderness Society, Conservation Lands Foundation and more of our friends sweat it out in the sun while other attendees listen in the somewhat-convenient shade of the overflow tent. Photo: Jared Muscat

All told, the videos received over 11,000 views with more than 214 hours viewed. Our Tweets made 763,654 impressions. The #ProtectBearsEars hashtag was used 658 times over the week by 347 different users for 10,525,764 impressions.

Though a final decision on national monument designation remains to be made by the Obama administration, conservation groups and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition put their best foot forward during Secretary Jewell’s visit to Bluff and the Bears Ears region. We are all hopeful for a positive outcome.

Take Action!

The Bear’s Ears Coalition is seeking permanent protection for the Bears Ears region as a national monument. Add your voice in support of saving Bears Ears by signing the petition now.

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