Bird by Bird

by Alisha Niswander

(In December 2017, the current administration decided to scale back two national monuments in Utah, which officially took effect on February 2, 2018. Bears Ears National Monument has been reduced to 16 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante to a little over half of its original size. Legal challenges are underway, but the area is now open to energy and mineral exploration under the General Mining Law of 1872. 

As an avid adventurer and lover of all wild places, I had an immediate and strong reaction to this decision. I also wrote an emotionally laden post about it, but then I decided that I didn't know enough about the subject to broadcast my opinion (yet ... I've been studying up).

However, I do know someone who definitely knows enough: my friend Alisha Niswander, owner of Mountain Vista Touring, an outdoor adventure, guided tour company located in Park City, UT. As a professional in the outdoor industry, a resident of Utah, and a lover of nature, Alisha was the person I wanted to hear from. Here are her thoughts:)

Utah. I never thought I would end up here but quickly realized this is the place. 

Nearly 17 years ago, I pulled into Park City for one winter. I fell in love with the beauty of the mountains, the lure of the desert: thousands of miles of trails and millions of acres of public lands were now at my fingertips. It wasn't long before I started a guiding business, fulfilling my passion of connecting people with nature. I explored, played, learned new things and am still, constantly in awe of this beautiful place.

Over a year ago, we the people, voted in an administration who does not have the same passions as I do. This is a terrifying road that we find ourselves on. The decisions that have been not only threatened but implemented by this group of “God-fearing” leaders are unthinkable. I keep wondering how a group of Christians who are commanded to be good stewards of the Earth can be so destructive for the sake of the almighty dollar. How IS that? Aren’t Christians called to be the ultimate environmentalists? Thinking of this not only raises my heart rate to an unhealthy level, it brings me to tears. What has happened to us? Where is our moral code?  

Tourism in Utah is a multi-billion dollar industry. Salt Lake City (just down the hill from me) often has air quality that is comparable to Beijing and Mumbai. Yep, it’s true. Yet somehow, our administration thinks it makes sense to shrink Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, OUR public lands, by 85% so they can explore how to add to this problem. Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument at 1.35 million acres just before leaving office. President Trump has shrunk it to right around 200,000 acres. This monument is home to five Native American tribes, countless artifacts, petroglyphs and sacred sites, all of which are part of our American heritage. 

Trump claims use of the Antiquities Act in that by shrinking the monument, it can be more closely monitored. The Antiquities Act allows for a president to CREATE national monuments, to PROTECT them, not to shrink them. By shrinking GSENM, the door to mining, drilling and other forms of extraction is wide open.

The twice annual Outdoor Retailer Conference (OR) is one of the largest trade shows in the world. OR had it’s home in Salt Lake City for two decades. Attracting over 40,000 people and bringing in over $45 million annually to Utah, this was a huge economic driver. OR threatened to relocate due to Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Utah’s own Governor Gary Herbert's decisions. An administration that does not hold the environment in high regard does not deserve the biggest outdoor trade show in the world (and the millions of economic dollars that come with it). Patagonia and Black Diamond led a charge, and many others followed suit saying they would not participate unless the conference moved or the administration backed down. You can imagine what happened. Outdoor Retailer now finds its home in Denver, CO. Another multi-million dollar mess up for the state of Utah.

Trump showed up, briefly in December, at the Utah State Capitol to cement his threats. Earlier he had argued that Utahans knew how to best use their land. He promised to listen to them, but instead ignored them when thousands of people gathered at the Utah State Capitol lawn in peaceful protest, holding signs that said “I Stand with Bears Ears,” “Don’t take our Public Lands,” etc. He lied … again. This is just one example of how corporate greed overtakes humanity. We should all remember to pause and sincerely question the motives of our government officials.  

I run to the desert to find peace and solitude. I run to the silence of it. In the silence is where I hear the voice of something bigger than me. In the silence is where things make sense, where my head clears and I where I receive clarity. In the silence is where I find God. My wish is that President Trump and his administration would seek out the silence in these beautiful pristine places and understand why we have to protect them. But I am doubtful this will ever happen. 

Where does this leave us? Beaten down and defeated? Perhaps. Temporarily. 

This is not the time for wishing. This is the time for action. We have recently proven as a country that we will not stand for a government that continuously lies, manipulates and does damage to our nation. We will not be silent. This bump in the road has shown us that we ARE a United Nation no matter who is in charge. Like minded people can come together to use our voices. 

THINK about what is happening. THINK about who to vote for … do your research. TALK about these issues with your friends and peers. Get involved in your local government or at the very least, with local issues. 

Sometimes it seems overwhelming, but then I remember a story from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. She writes about a time her brother procrastinated his science project on birds until the very last minute. The night before it was due, he sat at the table crying and fretting over how to get the project done. His father came up to him and put his hand on her brother’s shoulder and said “Just take it bird by bird buddy.”  

Do not cry and do not fret. If we all take the challenges before us ‘bird by bird,’ we will not be overwhelmed and we will not be overcome. Small steps equal huge change.  

Ways to get involved:

1. Contact your state representatives. Tell them why you support public lands staying PUBLIC, for the use of all Americans.

2. Reach out through organizations that are fighting back, like the Access Fund, The Conservation AllianceSierra Club, and Patagonia Action Works, to name a few.

3. Remember these issues when election time comes around. Make conservation of natural spaces and the revolutionary American concept of PUBLIC LANDS a pivotal issue that your elected official must address. 

We can't afford to take our public lands for granted anymore; it's time to fight for these precious and pristine natural areas that belong to all Americans!