Montezuma County activists protest shrinking of monuments

Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 2:41 PM
Activists gather at the entrance to Sand Canyon, part of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, to protest the shrinking of two monuments in Utah.
Michelle Hegmon speaks during the rally at Canyons of the Ancients on Saturday.

Members of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness and other activist groups gathered at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument on Saturday to protest the shrinking of another monument.

The rally at the Sand Canyon trailhead west of Cortez on County Road G drew more than 20 people. Several participants brought homemade signs with slogans like “Hands off Bears Ears” and “National Monuments: Our National Treasures,” and took turns speaking about the importance of protecting public lands. The Montezuma County chapter of Great Old Broads, a national activist group dedicated to wilderness issues, organized the rally in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement on Dec. 4 that he planned to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

Great Old Broads member Michelle Hegmon said Trump’s decision went against what the people of Colorado and Utah wanted. She said the designation of the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears monument a year ago was a “historic collaboration” between Native American tribes, conservationists and the federal government, and that it should not be undone.

“The monument was no kind of land grab,” she said. “They didn’t take the land away from anybody. What they did is add very valuable protections to what was already public land.”

Hegmon asked the rally’s participants to educate themselves about public lands and donate to some of the organizations that have filed lawsuits against the president over the decision, such as Utah Diné Bikéyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa. She also urged them to vote against Republican leaders who supported changes to the monument in the next election.

Great Old Broads chapter leader Pat McClenny quoted Regina Lopez Whiteskunk, a member of the intertribal coalition that advocated for Bears Ears’ designation, on another way locals could support public lands.

“Get out and visit the monuments, and always sign in,” she said.

Several other speakers echoed those sentiments during the rally. Self-described animal rights activist Kathleen Stachowski asked attendees to remember that many animals depend on public lands for survival. Barbara Stagg, who helped organize several rallies in Cortez earlier this year through the Montezuma Alliance for Unity, urged people to get involved in organizations that work to maintain wilderness areas, like Friends of Cedar Mesa.

“They’re stepping into the void that our dear president just created, and saying, ‘We’re going to move forward regardless,’” she said.

A few Bureau of Land Management officials, a BLM ranger and a Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputy stood on the sidelines during the rally. Connie Clementson, a BLM field manager, said she was there “to make sure everything goes smoothly.” She declined to comment on the monument issue, but said the protesters had a right to gather at the monument. The rally remained calm and peaceful, and afterward several participants went on a hike through Sand Canyon.

McClenny, who organized Saturday’s event, said she didn’t invite as many people as she would have liked because she was worried they would run out of parking at the canyon. She said she was considering holding another rally in Cortez, where it would be more visible, but she had no concrete plans as of Saturday.

Trump announced Dec. 4 that he planned to divide Bears Ears National Monument into two smaller monuments, totaling about 201,876 acres, and Grand Staircase-Escalante into three monuments, totaling about 1 million acres. The decision came after a lengthy review of 27 U.S. monuments by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Canyons of the Ancients was among the monuments originally listed for review, but in July Zinke said he would recommend no changes to its boundaries.