What Will Trump’s Quest for Energy Dominance Mean for Climbing on Public Lands?

In late June, President Trump announced his interest in establishing America’s energy dominance. He stated, “Under the previous administration, so much of our land was closed to development. We’re opening it up. The right areas, we’re opening it up.” The administration is not wasting any time on this agenda. Through executive orders, President Trump has the Department of Interior (DOI) focused on two related initiatives: reviewing national monuments (EO 13792) and removing any burden to energy development on our public lands (EO 13783). The administration is also shedding DOI employees and hiring new employees who have strong ties to the energy industry.

Photo courtesy of Elodie Saracco

This new DOI culture will grease the skids for energy development on public lands. And while energy development is one valid use of our public lands, it’s not the only one. Federal law states that climbing and other forms of outdoor recreation are also a principal (and profitable) use of public lands, and Access Fund believes that public lands should be managed for balanced use. Elevating energy development as the priority of public lands can affect our access and significantly impact scenic beauty, air and water quality, soundscapes, roads, sensitive natural resources, and safety.

National Monuments, which are currently being reviewed by the Trump administration, typically allow pre-existing energy development and/or mining to continue operations, but they prohibit new mining or energy development activities in order to protect irreplaceable natural and cultural resources. If a National Monument is rescinded or reduced, it could be opened up for energy development and mining.

At Bears Ears National Monument, for example, established activities such as climbing, grazing, hunting, OHV use, and wood collection are still allowed; however new oil and gas development is not. Even before the National Monument designation, Access Fund generally considered Indian Creek, a world-class climbing area within Bears Ears National Monument, well protected because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was obligated to conduct thorough analyses on how development activities could affect recreation, environment, and cultural resources—and climbers had a seat at the table in these discussions.

However, balanced land management is now at risk because the current administration has directed federal land management agencies to remove regulatory burdens to energy development. If this direction is hastily implemented, our treasured climbing areas and our natural and cultural heritage sites are at risk. Already, Congress has repealed a crucial BLM planning rule, limiting the public’s ability to be involved in BLM land management planning, and the BLM has been instructed to limit analyses in order to fast-track energy leasing and drilling permits. We are concerned that climbing areas and other recreation sites will not be thoughtfully and appropriately considered during land management decision-making.

On the bright side, not all national monuments with the potential for energy development will be rescinded. In fact, Secretary Zinke announced that Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument will be spared, despite the fact that it has dozens of active oil and gas wells and holds the potential for many more. But one critical factor differentiates the fate of Canyons of the Ancients from that of Bears Ears: Colorado legislators urged Secretary Zinke to protect Colorado’s national monuments and Utah legislators did precisely the opposite. Politics is at play regarding individual national monuments, but it is clear that the underlying motivation for the monument reviews, regulatory rollbacks, staffing changes, and new land agency directives is to advance energy development.

Given all of these changes, we are especially concerned that climbers, and the general public, could get cut out of the decision making process, giving us no say in where and how energy development will happen on our public lands. Right now, Access Fund and Outdoor Alliance are focused on making sure that the human-powered recreation community is considered a “principal user” of public lands, so that we have a seat at the table during discussions that will affect our climbing areas and other recreation areas.

Secretary Zinke’s monument review is due to President Trump on August 24th. Stay tuned for updates.