No, they weren’t cordoned off by police or anything. The demonstrators—about 100 of them—outside the the Salt Palace Convention Center wanted to literally show the effect of shrinking Utah’s national monuments, ahead of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s announcement at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo.
“Go ahead, push them out. We haven’t shrunk it out all the way yet,” one organizer said as the crowd was pushed to one side of the orange tape boundary. “Yeah, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave the monument.”
Standing together, many holding signs making jokes at Zinke, the crowd was slowly squeezed and eventually pushed outside of the tape in an attempt to show the monuments’ current size. About 15 percent—what is left of the original Bears Ears monument—remained inside the tape.
Eliza Van Dyk, a student at Westminster College who moved to Utah from Arizona last year, said Friday’s demonstration was the first she’s publicly spoken at about national monuments. Memories from her childhood and frequent trips to national parks and monuments, she said, inspired her to find a way to get involved after moving here.
“Being on a college campus with students from all different backgrounds, I’ve seen this community develop around these national monuments,” Van Dyk said. “Almost every student from my school, every break, wants to go to Southern Utah, be a part of the public lands, climb or camp, and it’s really incredible to see people from different background having a spot to connect with each other.”
Zinke, now dubbed “Shrinke Zinke” by his opponents, descended on Salt Lake City to sign Secretarial Order No. 3362, an official initiative aimed at improving big game migration across 11 western states—including Utah. Despite the announcement being unrelated to public lands, that didn’t deter demonstrators.
Dory Trimble, an avid climber, said she cherishes the access Utahns have to public lands and felt rescinding the monuments’ designations was a “slap in the face.”
The Bears Ears designation was the first monument declaration that specifically recognized rock-climbing as a “valuable and appropriate activity,” according to Climbing Magazine. The original declaration from former President Barack Obama provided an added layer of protection to well-known climbing spots such as Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Harts Draw, Arch/Texas Canyon, Comb Ridge and Valley of the Gods.
“I’m super passionate about these places because it’s where I spend most of my time,” Trimble said. “As a rock climber, as someone who spends a lot of time in these landscapes and benefits from pretty incredible access—access pretty much everyone in the country is jealous of—it’s a pretty big deal [for our community].”
Without the monument designation, Trimble and others fear the land would be subject to commercial development.
Lori Shields, who was joined by a few friends, said she feels discouraged at times but, “I would feel pretty bad about myself if I wasn’t at least trying.” She and her friends have attended other public-land demonstrations including those at the Capitol when President Donald Trump visited in December.
“I don’t like the idea of our government selling the land off,” Shields said. “You know, I was hoping that land would also belong to my children’s children.”