Big recreation industry joins enviros and Obama to wage war on rural West

The seizure of 1.9 million acres is a tricky proposition, and the mostly-white, wealthy environmentalists and big rec corporate heads pushing for a monument in the Bears Ears region needed a ruse; a sympathetic face to front the massive land-grab. They found the Inter-tribal Coalition easy to exploit.

Some might call it a conflict of interest, and others might call it a shared vision, but with former REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) executive Sally Jewell joining forces with corporate heads of REI, KEEN, Columbia, Patagonia, and other huge outdoor recreation companies in order to impose national monuments on rural folks in the West, it’s best described as a pile-on.

Although Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has some background in the oil industry, this London-born gal spent most of her career marketing and selling outdoor recreation equipment as an employee, COO and eventually CEO of REI. She comes with very little experience in natural resources management and virtually no understanding of Grazing Law, the proper legal definitions of federal government vs. state and local jurisdiction, or the passion Westerners have for their lands and liberty. She’s good at selling backpacks and climbing gear, but Madame Secretary Jewell has no business seizing land from those people who have worked and made their homes on it for generations.

From the get-go, big outdoor recreation corporations lobbied the Obama Administration to designate Bears Ears (Utah), Owyhee Canyons (Oregon), and other semi-wild places as national monuments. This coalition of big rec corporations calls itself the Conservation Alliance and includes the likes of The North Face, Columbia, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Petzl America, REI, KEEN, and others, and it prides itself on the growing number of acres gobbled up through federal proclamations.

Despite their ‘conservationist’ talking points, it’s clear the companies pushing the creation of national monuments simply want to boost tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities, which balloons their bottom lines. The fact that such federal designations crush other resource-based economic activities, and destroy rural communities, is apparently of no consequence to big rec.

Bears Ears

At the behest of environmentalist groups, Obama put a target on nearly 2 million acres in Southeastern Utah to be seized in a national monument designation. The initial rationale was to protect ‘sensitive’ cultural resources; American Indian ruins, petroglyphs, etc. centered in the Cedar Mesa area (approximately 170 square miles). But as various environmentalist groups pinpointed other areas which they believed needed ‘protection,’ the final proposal grew to nearly 3,000 square miles; consuming the southeast corner of Utah, and abutting Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon Recreation Area and other federally-controlled regions. The proposed Bears Ears Monument would turn the vast majority of lands in Southern Utah into an economic desert, fueled primarily by seasonal tourism.

Environmentalist groups, such as Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Nature Conservancy and Grand Canyon Trust, teamed up with Gavin Noyes of Dine’ Bikeyah, to help form the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition. Gavin Noyes, by the way, is one of several Caucasian members of the board of Dine Bikeyah, which is not an actual tribal chapter, but rather an environmentalist front group with a Navajo name, funded by climate hysteric Leonardo DiCaprio, and big rec corporation, Patagonia, among others.

But the seizure of 1.9 million acres is a tricky proposition, and the mostly-white, wealthy environmentalists and big rec corporate heads pushing for a monument in the Bears Ears region needed a ruse; a sympathetic face to front the massive land-grab. They found the Inter-tribal Coalition easy to exploit. The pro-monument coalition seduced tribes in the coalition by promising that they would be given the right to ‘co-manage’ the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, and reap the economic benefits from tourism. Not until late in 2016 was that promise exposed as fraud, having no legal basis. In October 2016, the San Juan County Commission passed a resolution clarifying the legal questions surrounding ‘co-management’ and made it clear that, despite the Inter-tribal Coalition’s best intentions, their members would have zero say in managing a federally-controlled monument, and would reap no economic benefits from it.

It’s also important to mention that all but 2 of the tribes named in the Inter-tribal coalition were from OUTSIDE the region encompassing Bears Ears; including parts of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and more distant states. A search of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Tribal Leaders Directory, revealed that of the 26 tribes purportedly in favor of creating a Bears Ears monument, 24 of them make their homes outside the region that would be affected by the land grab. Two tribal chapters, the Aneth and the San Juan Southern Paiute, whose communities lie closest to the Bears Ears boundaries, became leaders in opposition to the monument proposal.

Local opposition


At 2.5 million acres, the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument would overshadow even the immense Bears Ears proposal. Locals, mostly ranchers, miners, loggers and rural residents in Southeastern Oregon, formed the grassroots Our Land, Our Voice campaign to battle big rec, corporate environmentalists and progressive politicians pushing the Owyhee monument.

The Our Land, Our Voice effort has effectively articulated the conflicts between local economies and home-grown stewardship, and having a rural region overrun with–and completely dependent upon–federally-mandated tourist destinations. But interestingly, the peaceful occupation of the Malheur Refuge last January by a group protesting the imprisonment of Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, also proved to be a hurdle to an Obama designation of Owyhee. (read more about the WikiLeaks revelations here)


As soon as news of the proposed Bears Ears designation reached the residents of San Juan County, an opposition force coalesced, and the stage was set for a fierce political battle between environmentalist special interests, big recreation, Sally Jewell’s avaricious Interior Department and the locals and Natives living in the remote and rural Bears Ears region.

Protect the Bears Ears was formed, and a social media platform for getting out the opposition viewpoint was created. Utah’s political leaders are generally more conservative than those in Oregon, and the locals in San Juan County had a powerful ally in Senator Mike Lee. On July 16, Secretary Jewell staged a Kumbaya in Bluff, Utah with Inter-tribal Coalition members and busloads of reimbursed supporters from outside the area.

‘Supporters’ bussed in from other parts of Utah as well as other states to meet with Secretary Jewell on July 16

On July 27, Senator Lee held a field hearing in Blanding, Utah, attended by a thousand residents of San Juan County–mostly opposed to the proposed monument, with the majority from the local Navajo, Paiute and Southern Ute tribes.

A crowd composed mostly of members of local Indian tribes gathered in San Juan County to oppose the proposed the Bears Ears monument

Just days following the show of opposition in Blanding, big rec joined with big enviro to mount a counter press conference in Salt Lake City, attended primarily by wealthy, white corporate heads. Ironically, Navajo women from San Juan County who showed up to the press conference were prohibited from entering the venue.

Despite the assertion of “homegrown support” in the press release, those attending the presser were not from San Juan County. Peter Metcalf, President of Black Diamond, was joined by other outdoor recreation CEOs whose sole focus was securing capital from thousands of additional tourists who would pour into Utah to visit a Bears Ears monument.

Peter Metcalf, President of Black Diamond
Nazz Kurt, President of Petzl America

Obama’s choice of Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department fits with the Administration’s vision of turning Western grazing lands, and rural communities dependent on agriculture, ranching, mining, oil and gas, logging, and other resource-based economies, into tourism-only enclaves governed by iron-fisted federal agencies. Despite the fact that Jewell is wholly unqualified to make policy for the West, where feds (mis)manage the vast majority of open lands, she is an appropriate general in the war against rural America.

The Conservation Alliance is peopled with wealthy, mostly white, corporate heads, intent on growing the outdoor recreation industry by shrinking available lands, freedom and economic opportunity for rural folks in the West.

Perhaps feeling a pang of desperation in the waning days of Obama’s final term, big rec and big enviro are still waging pitched marketing campaigns to persuade the lame-duck president to use his pen and phone to lock up Owyhee Canyonlands and Bears Ears before the incoming administration takes over. After all, President-elect Trump was put into office by rural America, and has promised to champion its interests. And reversing midnight monuments declarations made by Obama is not off the table.

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  1. Sally Jewell. Another shining Obama appointee. The meadow that Sally and her paid minions met at for their photo shoot was left trashed . But she had to do it so she could mete out more propaganda about the Proposed Bears Ears monument. Then she would not attend the Senate hearing in San Juan County, Utah. She’s an out of touch shill, dictator and coward. Can’t wait till she’s gone. No Bears Ears monument. Sick and tired of Federal tyranny. Michael Nielson Lyman.

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