Caroline Gleich's Tips For Saving The Environment

By Caroline Gleich for REI's Co-op Journal

It was July 2016 in the desert of southeastern Utah, and the temperature was almost 100 degrees by 9 a.m. as I parked my car on the side of a dusty road near the Bluff Community Center. I was attending a public meeting organized by then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell about the future of Bears Ears. I was more than two hours early and the crowd was already starting to overwhelm the tiny community center. The pro- and anti-monument tension was rising as quickly as the temperature.

I was grateful to have my friends at my side. I discovered this event through the Utah Dine Bikeyah, a coalition of five Native American Tribes who were leading the fight to permanently protect Bears Ears through monument designation, and I stopped by their tent on my way to get in line to grab a blue “Protect Bears Ears” t-shirt.

We waited outside for two hours in the increasing heat before the doors to the building opened, and I grabbed a ticket for a lottery to speak. There was standing room only—it only got hotter and stuffier inside. It was a powerful relief to look around and see a sea of light blue t-shirts showing support for the monument. As the meeting started, the organizers drew numbers from the lottery and each speaker received two minutes.

After listening for three hours, my number was finally called. My heart pounded as I approached the podium. My voice quivered as I began to talk about my experience in the area and why it should be protected as a monument. It was scarier than dropping into a steep ski line or leading a hard pitch. Halfway through, the moderator had to stop me to tell the crowd to be quiet because people were yelling so loudly, booing and telling me to go home. Walking back to my car after the event, I was still scared and felt physically and emotionally drained. But I knew one thing for certain: The huge turnout of people made an impact.

In December, I received an email from the White House. It told me that Bears Ears would be designated as a national monument and asked me if I wanted to share an Instagram post on their account about it. I almost cried with happiness. It was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. I had an opportunity to put everything I had learned about affecting public policy into action. And the most important take home lesson? No matter how difficult it is, we need to continue to show up for the causes we believe in.

Fast forward to April 2017, when an executive order called for the review of 27 national monuments, including Bears Ears. After a lengthy public comment period, the future of many of these public lands remains uncertain. But it will depend, more than ever, on input from people like you.

You can't rely entirely on phone calls and texts to your elected officials. Here are some ways to show up and create change.