President Donald Trump announced Monday the reduction of two national monuments in Utah. During a recent television interview with CNN, the CEO of major outdoor retail giant Patagonia reacted by threatening litigation and referring to Utah’s politicians as “wackos.” He further inferred that the state’s political leaders and the federal government were both “evil.”
Such charged rhetoric is unhelpful in finding the proper balance regarding public lands in Utah and throughout the West.
"We're losing this planet, and we have an evil government,” Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard said. "Not just the federal government — the wacko politicians out of Utah and places. I mean, it's evil."
Anyone who can sell sleeveless fleece vests for just shy of $120 can surely engage in a more constructive policy conversation on public lands that doesn't devolve into dehumanizing verbal attacks.
Commendably, Chouinard takes great care in his treatment of the earth. And yet, he seems to take less care in how he verbally treats fellow human beings with whom he disagrees politically. We admire Chouinard’s passion for the planet. But passion to protect the environment does not justify spewing verbal pollutants into an already toxic political atmosphere.
Though we may not see eye-to-eye with all Utah politicians on every issue, the elected officials we know in this state are not “evil,” nor are they “wackos.”
Just as Chouinard has every right to question (and litigate) whether the president has the ability to reduce a monument size, local citizens and politicians also have the right to question whether the executive branch misused its power in the past by abusing the Antiquities Act — which states that monument designations are to be restricted to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Neither side is evil; neither position is irrational.
Except in very rare circumstances, local people should have a meaningful say in the governance and uses of the lands that surround them. In a state where the majority of land is owned and often managed by the federal government, it’s imperative that citizens play a role.
Many citizens, however, feel that their voice was not fully considered in the monument designations from President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. On the other hand, many also feel that the Trump administration and Utah’s delegation pushed to alter the monuments unjustly. Whether reducing the size of the two monuments was the right approach is an open question, and it’s evident that plenty of people in the state have different perspectives on this issue.
As Deseret News editor Jesse Hyde reported this week, Utah and those living by the monuments are now in a state of limbo. The actions by Obama a year ago, Trump on Monday, and the ensuing lawsuits that were filed late Monday in Washington, D.C. ensure that this issue is not settled.
That means that constructive work needs to continue with the goal of protecting natural resources in the best way possible, while respecting the benefits that the land brings to all who reside in and come to Utah.
The debate surrounding Bears Ears and public lands more broadly must be fought in the realm of reasoned discourse and never in the kind of rhetoric – from either side – that pollutes the soul.