Aspen environmental groups join fight to protect Bears Ears, other monuments | AspenTimes.com

Aspen environmental groups join fight to protect Bears Ears, other monuments

Two Roaring Fork Valley environmental groups are joining the battle to preserve national monuments in southwestern Colorado, Utah's spectacular redrock country and across the West.

Aspen-based EcoFlight and Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop are working to prevent the Trump administration from eliminating or altering boundaries of monuments.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order April 26 directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to start the reviews. The agency on Friday identified the 21 national monuments and five Marine National Monuments that will be scrutinized. They include the Canyons of the Ancients in southwest Colorado, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears in southeastern Utah.

Will Roush, conservation director for Wilderness Workshop, said those monuments and others are iconic landscapes that are heavily visited by residents of the Roaring Fork Valley. That prompted the organization to send out a recent alert to members urging them to make sure their voice is heard by the Trump administration.

“They’re in for a fight if they try to roll back those protections.”

— Will Roush, Wilderness Workshop

"They're in for a fight if they try to roll back those protections," Roush said.

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EcoFlight's plans to engage in the debate are up in the air.

The organization was scheduled to fly Native American tribal leaders from southern Utah to Salt Lake City on Sunday to meet with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Today, the organization will fly news reporters over the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, designated in the waning days of the Obama administration.

Michael Gorman, EcoFlight's program coordinator, said the organization worked on the creation of more than 12 national monuments. It enlists pilots to provide flights over the public lands to give policy-makers, reporters and others a special, broader perspective.

"The national monuments are all important to our national identity," Gorman said. "Each one of them has a cultural element that is important."

Bears Ears appears to be squarely in the Trump administration's crosshairs. It was designated for special review over the next 45 days.

The new monument stretches from south of Moab toward the Utah-Arizona border. It includes iconic areas such as Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch and Valley of the Gods. Former President Barack Obama declared it a national monument in December after years of debate and against the wishes of many Utah politicians.

Gorman said EcoFlight worked for years with the people trying to achieve the designation. It's significant because five Native American tribes worked together for the protections.

"They talked about the spirituality of the place," Gorman said. "It's their medicine."

Watch: EcoFlight video about Bears Ears National Monument.

Roush said Wilderness Workshop entered the fray because the monuments are special places that deserve protection. The group also wants to protect the integrity of the process that leads to protection of lands. A president shouldn't be able to roll back protections granted by another, he said.

Wilderness Workshop emailed an alert to members through its Capital Watch program, where it sends message about selective issues it believes its members should engage in. The alert can be found at on its website wildernessworkshop.org.

Conservation groups are convinced that the review will abolish or shrink Bears Ears.

"Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that (Trump) and the members of Utah's delegation have an idea what the study should find," Roush said.

Many conservation groups are gearing up for a legal battle that would follow.

"I'm hopeful at the end of the day it will remain intact," Roush said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

HOW TO COMMENT

The U.S. Department of Interior announced Friday it will start accepting comments on national monuments online after May 12. Submit comments after that date at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar or by mail to: Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.

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