The misspeak-backtrack-clarification boogie
I didn’t recognize it as a "clarification" when it first flew out of Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s mouth, soared across the room at eye level and, not unlike a sub-atomic particle in a centrifuge, exposed its component parts by smashing into the opposite wall.
No, upon reassembling the quanta involved, it much more resembled "backtracking." Of course, once the Republican Party spin-doctors had finished their remodel, the finger once again pointed at the collective nefarious agenda of local media. It seemed that an entire roomful of reporters had got it all wrong during Herbert’s monthly KUED news conference.
These pawns of the elite Eastern liberal media establishment had actually taken the Governor’s statement — "I’m not too happy about national monuments, but if that’s what it takes to get the compromise done that’s part of compromise" — to mean he was open to negotiation as regards adding additional public lands within Utah’s borders.
The following day, however, the usual suspects, "misspoke" and "clarification," assumed their spots in the line-up to further explain what the state’s chief executive actually had in mind. Coming at a gathering of representatives of the Utah Association of Counties, it appeared that coverage of the earlier news conference had been in error.
He would never, under any circumstances, back a national monument that didn’t have full support of the local community, including elected officials. Now, that’s the sort of take-it-or-leave-it negotiation with which Utah’s wilderness advocates have become most accustomed.
Actually, I’m much more at peace with the process now that Utah’s governor has formally returned to what, to him, is most decidedly familiar ground. I am not now and have never been comfortable when Utah’s powers-that-be take the same side of an environmental "negotiation" as I.
Over time, it has come to the attention of the wilderness lobby hereabouts that there is a lot more going on up the sleeves of state and local officials than elbows. Those who have been manipulating corporate purse strings for both the extractive industries and those in the legislature have been seen licking their chops and nosing around for a leg up.
Being on the side of the workingman, of course, they couch it in jobs and funding for schools and patriotism. The fact that corporations believe they have the moral high ground when it comes to land use I find almost hilarious. Not quite, however. Control of drinking water is only part of the darkness at that edge of town.
The fact that the movement for a national monument of 1.9-million acres surrounding the "Bears Ears" buttes in Southern Utah has gained the amount of traction it has is due, almost totally, to the ongoing involvement of the five sovereign tribes who claim that the lands in question constitute sacred space.
As the final decisions on any further protections for the lands of southern Utah rest most probably with the executive branch of the federal government, we who advocate for wildness and wilderness can only hope that the President comes through on the implied, if not explicit, promises of his campaigns.
Nothing is ever a given when it comes to land use out here in the West. Those who would privatize the landscape have already proven they have the billionaire class and the majority of the Supreme Court on their side. The Citizens United decision did nothing but reaffirm the notion that the electorate is highly influenced by what money can do.
Another, mostly unexplored, opening to gain political favor on the side of preservation would entail somehow swelling the ranks of environmental activists to the point where, as a voting bloc, they become a political force. Of course, with Citizens United, we would all be portrayed as terrorists before that would ever happen.
With apologies to Albert Camus and his "Myth of Sisyphus" essay, "the struggle itself towards the heights is [no longer] enough to fill a man’s heart." In climate justice, the rock must reach the summit and stay there. Retrograde is no longer an option. An angle of repose that allows it to keep rolling back down certainly won’t get us where we need to be.
Southern Utah needs further land protections and Bears Ears would be a good start. Not to say that the Greater Canyonlands proposal wouldn’t help solve some additional issues that loom over a threatened landscape. Help us in our time of need, Mr. President. Show us you are who we thought you were.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.