The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) lease sale includes more than 51,000 acres of land near Bears Ears—the national monument significantly scaled back by the Trump administration last year—as well as the Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments.
The Trump administration has aggressively pushed for fossil fuels. Even though Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has previously insisted "this is not about energy," Interior Department documents made public by the New York Times earlier this month showed that gaining access to the oil, gas and uranium deposits in Bears Ears and coal reserves in Grand Staircase-Escalante were key reasons behind the drastic cuts to the two Utah monuments.
Conservation groups say the leases are contrary to federal laws and regulations, as oil and gas development will lead to the destruction of culturally and environmentally rich areas. Researchers recently discovered what may be one of the world's richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within Bears Ears' original boundaries.
Rare Fossils Discovered on Lands Cut From Bears Ears National Monument https://t.co/bcZFaR5nEB #BearsEars @NWF… https://t.co/UGvpaWrdyB— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1519316441.0
"We won't sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America's cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry," said Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). "This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not 'lease first, and think later.'"
"BLM's short-sighted decision threatens Utah's red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources," added Landon Newell, staff attorney with SUWA. "BLM's 'lease everything, lease everywhere' approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for 'energy dominance.'"
In addition to Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments, BLM also plans to offer leases in other culturally and ecologically significant public lands throughout southeastern Utah, as conservation groups outlined:
- Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. BLM briefly considered leasing in this area in 2015, but acknowledged that it lacked sufficient information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from the proposal. The agency is putting these cultural sites at risk without collecting and reviewing that information;
- Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
- Several tracts in proposed wilderness areas including in Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon near Moab, Utah, and in Cross Canyon, immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Nada Culver, senior director of The Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center pointed out, "Secretary Zinke and the BLM have acknowledged that some places should not be put at risk from oil and gas drilling, as we saw in his recent reprieves for lands around Chaco Canyon and the town of Livingston, Montana.
"The extraordinary cultural resources and wilderness values of these Utah lands deserve the same protection," Culver noted.
Zinke Proposes New National Monument in His Home State But Wants to Shrink Them Elsewhere https://t.co/LfQW41cPtT… https://t.co/NHNYLd9bC9— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1511830207.0
Reuters reported that local officials are eager to extract resources from the areas in order to provide economic benefits in some of Utah's poorest areas.
"Oil and gas operations are an important contributor to a diversified county economy and the county supports leasing as a necessary step toward realizing economic benefits," county planner Nick Sanberg said in comments to the BLM.
However, as Reuters detailed, "recent lease sales have yielded relatively low bids, a reflection of soft demand for federal property as the oil and gas industry taps vast reserves on private lands."
Fate of National Monuments Remains Shrouded in Secrecy: Earthjustice Sues Federal Agencies for Withholding Information From Public
For months, the Interior Department, Bureau of Land Management and the White House Council on Environmental Quality have repeatedly failed to answer the public's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information related to the Trump administration's ongoing review of national monuments—protected federal lands and waters that belong to the American people.
The review of the country's national monuments has been marked by a lack of transparency—Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke has yet to disclose how he incorporated input from Native American tribes and the 2.8 million Americans who urged protections for national monuments in the public comment period into his leaked draft recommendations to shrink monuments and gut their protections. On Thursday, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of six organizations whose requests for information on national monuments have been met with radio silence.
"The Trump administration continues its onslaught against America's national monuments, hoping to cover up its misdeeds by blocking public access to information crucial to the protection of these iconic places," said Yvonne Yuting Chi, an attorney in Earthjustice's Rocky Mountains office. "National monuments preserve America's historical heritage, stunning wilderness, geologic wonders, and priceless cultural sites—and they're meant to be protected for future generations under the Antiquities Act. But the Trump administration wants to pretend that the laws of the land have changed. The American people have the right to know the fate of these magnificent places that belong to all of us, and we are taking these agencies to court to get answers."
"It's important that the public knows who had the White House and Interior Department's ear to push the president to dismantle Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Salt Lake City-based Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "We also expect this lawsuit will shed light on the information and factors the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Interior Department considered as part of Secretary Zinke's 'monuments review' and that led him to recommend eviscerating Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, a decision that would place irreplaceable cultural and public natural resources at risk of damage and destruction."
Trump to Shrink Utah National Monuments to Allow Drilling, Mining https://t.co/xEHGV1AXZm @EcoWatch— DeSmogBlog (@DeSmogBlog)1509562880.0
Earthjustice is representing the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness in this lawsuit to compel the agencies to respond to seven FOIA requests, most of which have been overdue for months. The complaint alleges that the agencies have failed to meet their response deadlines under the FOIA and have repeatedly rejected or ignored these organizations' inquiries on their requests' status.
"If Interior Secretary Zinke's 'first step' before telling the president to ravage the Bears Ears National Monument was, as he claims, to 'gather the facts,'" said Aaron Paul, a staff attorney with the Grand Canyon Trust, "why are our months-old requests for those already-gathered facts still unanswered when federal law gives the secretary 20 days to respond? It's a shame that we have to turn to the courts to force the secretary to deliver the transparency that the Freedom of Information Act secures for the American public."
"The public deserves to know what Secretary Zinke is recommending for the future of our public lands," said Dan Ritzman, lands, water and wildlife director for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "The Trump administration's secrecy suggests Zinke is aware that stripping protections from our public lands and monuments is as unpopular as raising fees for the public to enjoy them."
Since 1967, the FOIA has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is a law that keeps the American people in the know about their government. When a member of the public lodges a request with a federal agency under the FOIA, the agency must promptly disclose any information requested unless the information falls under one of the nine exemptions protecting interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.
"We are dismayed that it takes litigating FOIA requests to learn the fate of public lands that belong to all Americans," said Caroline Munger, Board Chair for Great Old Broads for Wilderness. "This cloak and dagger approach by the current administration on revealing the fate of these national monuments shows a disdain for the law and the legacy of our protected wild lands. Monument proponents like Broads, tribal nations, and others have committed to a long legal battle, if necessary, to protect the Antiquities Act and monuments created under it."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
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Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.