Diffusing an explosive situation

Diffusing an explosive situation
Luke Mehall - 12/21/2017

We were about 30 minutes into our adventure and five minutes away from finding the explosives. I looked back to my companion for this adventure – a BLM law enforcement officer, packing a gun and everything – and asked if he was doing alright. He was just fine, and minutes later we were checking out the explosives.

“You moved these?” the officer said. “You’re brave.”
“No, I’m dumb,” I replied. “I didn’t really realize what they were.”

I’d found the box of explosives on an exploratory hike in my favorite place in the world, Indian Creek, which was part of the national monument formerly known as Bears Ears. Upon discovering them, I was confused as to why they were there, so like any modern human I took to social media. I posted the photos, and several friends knowledgeable about mining and extraction chimed in. The answer from just about everyone: leftover munitions from an exploratory mission to find uranium. 

A day later, I got a Facebook message from the Moab Police Department. A friend had showed my pictures to someone in the office, and they inquired if I could help them find the explosives so they could be properly removed. I was more than happy to do that, and after a couple messages, I was put in touch with the Monticello BLM office. 

The mission went perfectly. I was able to re-find the explosives (I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to) and the officer was good company. We avoided talking about the politics going on with the landscape we traversed, and instead talked about the landscape itself. Sometimes it’s nice to leave politics out of a conversation. We talked about how good the climbing is in Indian Creek. He told me he was afraid of heights but agreed if he ever went climbing, he would tie in with me.

There doesn’t seem to be much civil banter going on in this country these days. Had this officer and I discussed politics, we would have discovered that we either agreed or disagreed. It was nice to have that neutrality. We simply talked like we were both Americans, on the same team. And we are.

I’ve never thought of myself as a Democrat or a Republican. Both are flawed parties, and honestly I wish we had at least one other option. Hell, why not five other options? As a writer, I’ve always felt it my duty to be a contrarian, to question both sides. Or if I may paraphrase Chris Rock, “You’re an idiot if you’re automatically a liberal or a conservative on every issue without examining the issue.”

Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument in the twilight of his presidency, just before leaving office last year. Perhaps the most important thing to note about this monument was that it was done with input from the Bears Ears Tribal Council, a coalition of five Native American tribes, which would also be involved in its management. Outdoor recreation advocates also managed to get rock climbing written into the monument proclamation, the first time that had ever happened.

Those against Bears Ears claim it is a federal land grab that was not done with the approval of local residents. Drive through Monticello and signs of “No Monument” grace most of the businesses along Main Street. Some believe monument status is just a way for outdoor companies to sell more equipment.

Trump announced the shrinkage of Bears Ears earlier this month in Salt Lake City.

Days before his visit, thousands marched on the Capitol in support of Bears Ears, while a couple hundred attended a “thank you” rally for Trump in Monticello. Earlier this year, Utah lost the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show to Denver and the millions of dollars that came with it because state officials were urging Trump to shrink Bears Ears. It was a loss for Utah, and a win that Colorado really didn’t need, if I do say so myself.

When Trump spoke in Salt Lake, his speech showed his cards. His narrative read something like this: “These people in Utah have been doing what they want in their back yard and now Washington is going to come in and tell you that you can’t do that anymore...well I’m going to change that.”

Ah, the irony. This was a national monument whose creation was led by an intertribal coalition, and now our openly racist white supremacist president is taking the protections away.

But isn’t it obvious by now that “Make America Great Again” is about the things that never made America great in the first place?

Though I view all politicians with suspect, I firmly believe that Obama was making a sound decision to create Bears Ears. Trump is wrong about whose back yard it really is. If it truly is anyone’s back yard, it is the Native Americans.

Of course, there are many wrongs throughout the history of our nation. Our future can only be a respectable one if we change course. The status of Bears Ears will be left up to the courts, with the Inter-Tribal Coalition and outdoor retailers and organizations filing suit.

In the meantime, those of us who are broken hearted by this decision – the general public overwhelmingly supported the original Bears Ears – are looking for ways to help. One such way is to support the Bears Ears Education Center, which will be located in Bluff, Utah. The center is the idea of Friends of Cedar Mesa, which has launched an ambitious campaign and Kickstarter project (running through Dec. 31) to fund the project. Among other things, the center will guide visitors on where they should go and how to properly interact with the sensitive landscape.

Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, described the creation of this facility as a “we the people” type moment. “What is needed is some strategy and direction, a center will educate and send people to the right place,” he said, adding that Bluff is a “proud gateway” to Bears Ears.

Well, I’m running out of space, and God knows there’s much more to be said about Bears Ears. Even more important than words, though, is action. So, if you care, make your way over to the Bears Ears Education Center Kickstarter page to make a small donation and find additional ways to get involved in the good fight.

Happy holidays everyone!