People Wary of Monumentizing: Dolores River Version

A tree begins to bloom inside Dolores River Canyon, Apr. 23, 2023, near Bedrock. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Shout-out to Jason Blevins of the Colorado Sun for this story that shows the different local points of view around Monumentizing.

Pond, a former nuclear engineer who now runs an RV park in Naturita, quickly launched a petition at saying the monument designation would cancel all mining in the uranium-rich area, end hunting and cattle grazing and curtail motorized travel.

“I think it absolutely, positively could be a threat,” Pond told The Colorado Sun. “If you look at the history of monument designations over time, more and more restrictions are put in place as more people start coming. We could start losing access. These are public lands me and my family and our neighbors have enjoyed for decades. A lot of local people have a lot of concerns.”

In the first 10 days more than 2,100 signed the online petition, many leaving comments blasting the plan.

Scott Braden, a Western Slope conservation advocate whose Colorado Wildlands Project is among the 13 conservation groups behind the monument proposal, said the petition “is making mischaracterizations about what a monument will or won’t be.”

“It will not end ranching. It will not close Jeep trails. It will not stop hunting. That is simply not what we are proposing,” said Braden, pointing to an online fact sheet he helped assemble to better inform residents about the plan.

This is the old “not in this decision” trick, as we have seen with the BLM Rock Springs draft RMP.. no, strictly speaking, this decision isn’t made in the designation but it narrows the activities allowed in future decisions.  And if the point is not to change activities to “protect” things.. ultimately.. why make BLM and FS folks go to the work of developing a new plan for the Monument.. unless the whole point is to attract more tourists.. and thereby not really “protect” it at all.  Puzzling.

And the ever-popular State of the Rockies poll, (generic and biased questions asked of people who aren’t familiar with the issue, IMHO).

Colorado College’s annual State of the Rockies poll this year asked 436 Colorado residents about protecting existing public lands surrounding 162 miles of the Dolores River to “conserve important wildlife habitat, and safeguard the area’s scenic beauty and support outdoor recreation.” The poll showed 92% of respondents support the protection plan and 6% oppose.

Advocates for the monument last year commissioned the nonprofit research group Conservation Science Partners to identify “biologically rich pockets of unprotected public lands” in Colorado. The group’s report showed the five-county region around the Dolores River as the largest and most biodiverse of the 71 areas identified, with high biodiversity values that support a variety of animals and plants.

Here we go.. unprotected from whom and what, exactly?

Natalie Binder, who has converted a 120-acre former mining camp above the San Miguel River in Naturita into a boutique retreat and artist compound, said even if a national monument increases visitation to the region, “it will not change the remoteness of these lands.”

“A monument is not the magic wand, nor does it come without some complexities,” she said. “However, we are rooted in supporting efforts that allow us to bring more people together, provide opportunities for more people and open our doors with kindness to all travelers who are passing through looking for something a little different.

It does sound a bit like.. more people are wanted, at least by some.

Pond said a shutdown on new mines would not work for the communities along the Uravan Mineral Belt, a 210-square-mile geological zone that has produced more yellowcake uranium and radium than any other region in the country. But there hasn’t been any hardrock mining in the 2,100-resident West End community for several decades and the coal-fired power plant in Nucla closed in 2020 and was demolished. There are hundreds of dormant mines in the area needing remediation.

But the price of uranium is up, over $100 a pound for the first time since 2007. There is a buzz in the West End communities of Bedrock, Naturita, Nucla and Paradox around a mining revival, Pond said.

What I think is missing from that part of this piece is:  there seems to be a nuclear energy renaissance going on around the world, including this COP28 statement:

At COP28, Countries Launch Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy Capacity by 2050, Recognizing the Key Role of Nuclear Energy in Reaching Net Zero

Logically that would require more uranium mining.  And as we know, some Tribes don’t want it, so.. wouldn’t we want to think about that before Monumentizing? As to polls, here’s another one (granted it was Australia)

An exclusive Newspoll conducted for The Australian shows 55 per cent of all Australian voters supported the idea of small modular nuclear reactors as a replacement technology for coal-fired power.  But support was highest among 18 to 34-year-olds – the demographic most concerned about climate change – with 65 per cent saying they would approve of such a proposal.

If I were involved in that discussion, I’d ask the proponents exactly what they are looking to “protect” from.. industrial scale recreation? Moabization?  and then have the discussion move on from there. Because right now, it looks to me (to link to our previous discussion on targets) that certain groups, those with a heavy influence on certain politicals, have a “protection acres”… target.  And in pursuit of that target, perhaps they don’t actually care what “protection” means exactly.  And these local people in the article do care about the specifics.   So, given that.. what is the right process to involve local people in Monumentizing?

21 thoughts on “People Wary of Monumentizing: Dolores River Version”

  1. TLDR: We demand that public lands be used exactly as *we* want them to be used, not anyone else. But the public should keep subsidizing my ranch and be ready to underwrite the mines, which better not be overregulated by the government we expect to bail us out. Plus my buddies like driving trucks all over the desert and using critters for target practice. God Bless America! And anyone who thinks otherwise is an urban elite who doesn’t understand the issues.

    • Whose activities are not subsidized by the government in some way? Who doesn’t use material derived from mining? I know my recreation activities are subsidized by the government and this computer was made using mined materials. As to “driving all over the desert and using critters for target practice” I don’t think that fits with many of the people concerned.. including me. Taking the extremes and stereotyping everyone that way.. seems to be a feature of political discourse, but I find that rhetorical device neither honest nor helpful.

  2. I had a good discussion on Facebook with the monument proponents recently where I got them to admit that monument designation would negatively impact recreation simply by requiring a new travel planning process.

    Whatever the proponents claim, national monuments absolutely do NOT increase recreation access or opportunities. All they do is take it away. There once was a time where designating new national parks or monuments resulted in new recreational opportunities being created through the construction of new trails, new access roads, campgrounds, visitor centers, etc. But all recent national monument designations have been entirely focused on protecting natural resources at the expense of recreation, ensuring that no new recreational infrastructure is built and existing infrastructure is removed.

    These days every national monument designation comes with new restrictions on recreation, including limiting activities like camping and rock climbing, with a focus on management most of the monument as de facto wilderness. Every new monument proclamation also requires the creation of a new travel plan, which because of how travel planning is conducted basically guarantees a minimum of a third of the dirt roads in the monument will be closed to vehicles, further limiting access for camping and mountain biking as well as off highway vehicles.
    When they say the landscape needs to be protected, that means protecting it FROM the public by decreasing access for everyone.

    If the monument proponents wished to preserve existing recreational opportunities, all they’d have to do is ensure that the monument proclamation includes language mandating that existing travel management plans be kept in place and that no new restrictions be placed on recreation in the monument management plan. They could also explicitly name recreation as one of the monument’s “objects and values” to be protected. But of course they won’t, because monumentizing always views recreation as a threat to protected against, not a benefit to be protected itself. They’ll never admit it out loud, but the current trend of monumentizing inherently assumes a zero-sum relationship between recreation and conservation, such that recreation always loses whenever a new monument is created.

    • So… given that.. and given there is no extra $ for Monuments.. why do folks like REI support them?,will%20follow%20in%20our%20footsteps.

      “Across the country, Tribal Nations and other communities who have too often been left out of decisions about our public lands are calling for the protection of places sacred to them. REI, in concert with hundreds of organizations and outdoor brands, is joining these leaders in calling for national monument designations that will ensure the future of spectacular cultural sites and critical habitats—for ourselves and for the future outdoor enthusiasts who will follow in our footsteps.

      Protecting these places as national monuments is also a key solution for ensuring that more of us can access world-class recreation opportunities and sustain rural outdoor recreation economies nationwide. ”

      Is this really “our recreation” (good) vs. “other recreation” (bad)?.. but REI sells mountain bikes.. this doesn’t add up. I wonder if I could get an interview with someone there…

      • I’m pretty sure organizations like REI only support monumentizing because they’ve bought into the simplistic DEI worldview of siding with whoever claims to be the “oppressed” against the “oppressor”, which in this case is the tribes against everyone else. The tribes want monuments because it gives them political power, most notably the ability to close off public lands they claim are “sacred” to the general public, and REI sides with them even though it’s to the detriment of their own customer base. But they can’t admit that of course, so they simply lie and claim monuments somehow benefit recreation when that is demonstrably untrue.

        • I don’t know, Patrick. I’m not sure that’s it. It could be that that’s what their customers want- say- more than Camping World would want more land available to hiking and biking and less to others. Because there are more hikers than say bikers (although bikes cost more). Or maybe they haven’t really thought about it. My gut says it’s not about the Tribes, though.
          E.g. I don’t see Tribes in this Brown’s Canyon timeline.
          And some Utes sound pretty ticked off about their consultation over the Hale NM “The tribe said the designation was made without tribal consultation and is “an unlawful act of genocide.” that’s pretty strong.

          I see Congressional folks who perhaps think more Wilderness is better, or are paid by people who think Wilderness is better and it meets the “sounds plausible” criterion. Folks generally from Boulder/Denver.

          • That statement from the Uncompahgre Band of the Ute Tribe reads very much like the sort of thing people could say in the last days of culturally tolerable wokeness — that period from roughly early 2020 to early 2023 when genocide, colonialism, white supremacy, racism, and the patriarchy could be invoked willy-nilly and nobody would push back publicly.

            Most people are exhausted by that. I don’t think a similar statement would be made now. And it’s interesting to see how Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument has played out:


            That’s not a deep investigative dive, but as a temperature-taking things don’t sound so bad at all. The monument designation seems to have functioned as a reboot of the area’s management processes, with all stakeholders invited to participate and the tribes featuring prominently.

            It strikes me that much of the resistance to the monument designations is rooted in a sense of giving up power. It’s notable how opponents of new monuments often portray monument proponents as being outsiders imposing their vision on locals. In the process they ignore—effectively make invisible—the local support that exists.

            I’ve seen that happen with a proposed national monument in my own region. There was just as much local support as opposition, but opponents characterized that support as driven by outsiders. And the one fundamental difference between having or not having a monument was that a monument meant management by many stakeholders, not just the few who currently dictate what happens in the region.

            • Given that the management planning process for Camp Hale hasn’t even started yet, it’s a bit early to say how that’s going to turn out. One thing though is that Camp Hale is a much smaller monument than other recent monuments like Grand Staircase or Bears Ears, which are much more similar to the proposed Dolores monument. The original management plan for Grand Staircase resulted in massive changes in management for the area, managing the vast majority of the monument as “primitive” (basically wilderness) and closing thousands of miles of roads. Both the new management plan for Grand Staircase and the upcoming management plan for Bears Ears appear to be following the same course.

              Based on that, I’d say the fundamental difference is a lot more than more stakeholders being involved in management. If anything, monument status means the complete transference of power to the faction who advocated for the monument, and the complete exclusion of all interests they disfavor. Creating national monuments, like all other exercises of political power, is about rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. And in this case, the “enemies” are just about everyone who enjoys using and visiting the lands in question.

              • I’m curious to know more about the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase planning processes — who had seats at the table, how the different interests were triangulated, and so on.

                In the case of Dolores, I find it interesting that, way down deep in the article, we get this:

                “Advocates in March 2023 polled 750 residents on the Western Slope, including 450 in Dolores, Mesa, Montezuma, Montrose and San Miguel counties. The poll by Keating Research found 68% of residents in the five counties supported a national monument and across Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, support reached 72%.”

                Now, a poll isn’t necessarily gospel and maybe the questions were presented in leading ways. But that sure sounds like a *lot* more local support than opposition. And it makes me suspicious of how the article was framed and the rhetoric of the opponents quoted in the article, who seem to be resorting to culture war tactics when really they’re just upset that most of their community wants something they don’t.

                • Great question! There is quite a business in all this..asking the right questions so a poll can be used to advance your pre-existing point of view via media campaigns. Patrick, you might be interested. Here’s a link to the report.

                  Here was the question asked in the poll, and a link to the report.

                  Here’s “additional information respondents were provided.”

                  Additional information respondents were provided on Dolores River Canyon Country:
                  The Dolores River Canyon Country is a five hundred thousand acre area that includes red rock canyons, ancient ponderosa pine trees, desert wildlands, wildlife habitat, and indigenous cultural
                  and historical sites. Currently, this land – and its future – is at risk of long-term drought, renewed interest in uranium mining, development, and irresponsible recreation.
                  Establishing the Dolores River Canyon Country National Monument will provide strong, permanent protections for this watershed while supporting local ranching and agriculture,
                  boosting the economy, and maintaining access for outdoor recreation. A National Monument designation ensures this land will be better managed, safeguards the area’s scenic beauty and sensitive areas, and guarantees long-term access to one of the last stretches of unprotected land in Colorado.

                  There is so much about that that is questionable… I think long-term access, for one example, is already guaranteed by federal law. And of course better managed seems to mean taking decisions from existing RMP and LMP processes to Presidential decree.

                  What do you mean by “culture wars” exactly?

                  • Wow, that poll question is so biased its not even funny. I’d love to see what the responses would be if monument opponents conducted a poll in which the questions said monument designation would be likely to eliminate most mining and grazing and close hundreds of miles of roads, plus swamp small rural communities with mobs of tourists and AirBnbs.

                  • By “culture war tactics,” I meant appeals to group identity/membership that fall along sensitive political and cultural lines: not just conservative vs. liberal, but also rural vs. urban, regular people vs. elite, local vs. outsider.

                    So on “my” side of this, you rightly called me out for culture war trolling the other day. I might also call out the Uncompahgre Ute Band’s accusations of “genocidal tactics”.

                    On the flip side, the statements by Pond and Rickman in the original article veer close — in how they position themselves as the arbiters of what locals think — without crossing the line. But Greg’s “I’m sure the monument proponents are wary of the locals, and do what they can to avoid uncomfortable conversations with locals” is a good example: “monument proponents” and “the locals” are presented as exclusive categories.

        • Antiquities Act of 1906
          “Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest …”

          I don’t see any room here for adding recreational interests as an independent “object” of a national monument. I think I’d agree that it’s more about protecting objects of historic or scientific interest from anything that would harm them, including recreation.

          On the other hand, I don’t see anything in the Antiquities Act that gives tribes political power to close off lands, beyond an opportunity to make a case for (pre)historic interest.

          • The current legal case challenging Bears Ears and Grand Staircase involves the question of what can be listed as an “object” of a monument, with the Biden administration taking the position that literally anything can be an “object” and there are no limits on that whatsoever. By that same logic, “recreation opportunities” are just as eligible to be objects as “wildlife habitat”, “scenery”, “cultural landscapes”, or or any of the other nebulous concepts that have been cited as monument objects in recent monument proclamations. In fact I believe the Camp Hale monument proclamation did list recreation opportunities as objects, which gives recreation more protection in that monument than in others.

            As for the tribal power, that comes not from the Antiquities Act but from the specific tribal co-management arrangements created by recent monument proclamations, pioneered with Bears Ears. That gives the tribes a direct role in drafting the management plan for the monument over and above normal tribal consultation. It’s not yet known what that plan will look like, but the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition has publicly advocated restricting all public access (including hiking) to a small number of designated areas, leaving the vast majority of the monument completely off limits to the public. The latest news about Bears Ears was the state withdrawing from a land exchange agreement in protest over how much the draft management plan restricts public access, so all signs point to the end result of this co-management system being to close off public lands to the public.

            • I think they have to stay within the bounds of “historic or scientific interest,” but that’s not a very high bar.

              The authority for closures to public access includes:
              “36 CFR § 261.53 Special closures.
              When provided in an order, it is prohibited to go into or be upon any area which is closed for the protection of:

              (c) Objects or areas of historical, archeological, geological, or paleontological interest.

              (g) The privacy of tribal activities for traditional and cultural purposes. Closure to protect the privacy of tribal activities for traditional and cultural purposes must be requested by an Indian tribe; is subject to approval by the Forest Service; shall be temporary; and shall affect the smallest practicable area for the minimum period necessary for activities of the requesting Indian tribe.”

              It’s hard to see this leading to large expanses permanently closed to the public.

  3. I’m sure the monument proponents are wary of the locals, and do what they can to avoid uncomfortable conversations with locals who are concerned about the details. I think locals are correct in their concerns. Conservation groups relish every instance land is protected from the rest of us.

  4. I’ve always assumed (with all the dangers inherent therein) that monument designations were more about restricting potential future extractive development than restricting current uses.

    I’d be interested to hear from fossil fuels folks: How easy would be to make money from oil or coal 100 miles west of Blanding, UT if there was no monument? I wouldn’t buy stock in that company, but that may simply be because I lack vision.

    • Rich J.- well, I guess it involves what you mean by “extractive development”, are solar, wind and transmission lines “extractive”? Or just mines and oil and gas development?
      I can see the argument both ways.. if there is no potential for O&G, then why do you need a Monument? I think that this was an issue for Bears Ears, but I will check. A problem is that we don’t really know what the point is other than to please groups that want more acres “protected” and they don’t have to explain the details.
      An interesting experiment would be to FOIA the White House discussions of specific Monuments. On the other hand, there might be interesting info in discovery when the Antiquities Act goes to court. Perhaps the public will get access.


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