(HELENA) A group of business owners from around the West gathered in Montana Wednesday, to highlight the benefits they say they’ve seen from national monuments near their communities.
Dave Crider is an outfitter in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He said his business has grown substantially since the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was established in 2014.
“I’ve seen an increase,” said Crider. “The local businesses have started to come around and use that in their advertising. We definitely are.”
Suzanne Catlett and her husband Joe operate NEMO’s Drive-Thru in Escalante, Utah, just outside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They said their restaurant is one of nine in a community of 850 people.
“Not only has our restaurant increased year over year, but it’s had a record-breaking year this year,” said Suzanne Catlett.
Business for Montana’s Outdoors and the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance brought people from six states together for roundtable discussions in Helena and Great Falls. They came to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s home state to ask him not to recommend any changes to their neighboring monuments.
In April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling on Zinke to review 27 national monuments created or expanded in the last 21 years, mostly in the West. The order asks him to consider whether the monuments are larger than they need to be and whether there was adequate public outreach before they were created.
“We know that small businesses are made to feel uncertain when we talk about reviewing these monuments,” said Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors. “When that happens, they can’t invest more in their communities, they can’t invest in hiring new talent, and the uncertainty of their business becomes a real factor in whether or not they succeed.”
Pat Flanagan owns the 29 Palms Inn, near the Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow National Monuments in the southern California desert. She said visitors come to the area for its solitude and undeveloped character.
“If we don’t preserve what we have that people love, they’ll stop loving it,” she said. “They’ll go somewhere else, because they can.”
Dan Irion, the co-owner of Taos Mesa Brewing in Taos, New Mexico, said the national monument issue shouldn’t be seen as simply business versus conservation.
“This isn’t just a bleeding-heart, wanting to save public land for the sake of the land itself,” Irion said. “Preserving the national monument status in Taos, preserving public lands in the West in general is absolutely vital and necessary to the economic sustainability of our communities out west.”
Zinke has already announced he will not recommend changes for five of the monuments under review, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in north-central Montana. He is scheduled to present his recommendations on the remaining 22 monuments later this month.
Zinke’s office has said he is committed to hearing from all voices as the review process moves forward.
The business owners who met in Helena Wednesday say their message for Zinke is simple.
“The support is there to leave our monument intact, and we ask that you do just that,” said Joe Catlett.
This group isn’t the only one putting pressure on Zinke as he makes his monument review. The public lands advocacy group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has started a $1.4 million ad campaign in Montana, urging him not to recommend changes to the monuments.