National parks experts speak on Bears Ears

National Parks: Present and Future panelists at journalism conference joined by guests who spoke on environmental policy, marijuana legalization, media law in Utah.

by Rhett Wilkinson

The designation of Bears Ears followed a “transparent process” that “followed the abject failure of the legislative process with (Rep. Rob Bishop’s) Public Lands Initiative.”

That’s what David Nimkin, the senior director of the Southwest region of the National Parks Conservation Association, said. It was part of his response to Tom Williams in an expert forum primarily about Bears Ears at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Williams, the Utah Public Radio program director, remarked that there is “a sizable number” of folks who don’t like Bears Ears and that the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert sent a resolution to President Donald Trump asking him to rescind former President Barack Obama’s late-December designation of Bears Ears as a national park. (That followed Bishop’s legislation.)

What Nimkin also said was that four of Utah’s five national parks were created as monuments through the Antiquities Act, that opposition to Bears Ears has to do with former President Clinton’s designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 and the opposition of persons in rural parts of Utah who “can no longer rely on traditional industries of mining and ranching and logging.”

“Similarly, I think the… rhetoric of blaming the federal government for all that is wrong in the United States contributes to that,” Nimkin added.

The panel was one of many, held at the Leonardo in late March in Salt Lake City, that were part of the Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 conference. Others related to environmental policy and marijuana legalization in Utah and another was a forum with Utah media law attorneys.

Bears Ears

Robert Keiter is the director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah. “With the advent of the automobile,” he said, “the national parks became available to every person.”

The Model-T Ford car, which is often viewed as spurring the regular usage of automobiles, was created in 1915. The Antiquities Act was signed into law just nine years earlier, in 1906, and 53 of 59 national parks have been created since then. The act grants presidents the authority to declare such monuments.

Another in Utah is now Bears Ears. Williams, program director for Utah Public Radio, turned to Sara Dant, a history professor at Weber State University, to talk about “environmental politics.” Dant spoke about Frank Church, a Democratic senator from Idaho. Church had the “unique ability to bring together groups like the Sierra Club and Chambers of Commerce,” she said, “helping them realize that what they valued made them more united than divided.

“I think we saw that with Bears Ears,” she then added, “in terms of bringing about a consensus.”

When Williams then asked for an example of that consensus, Nimkin first spoke.

“There are very few things that offer opportunities to have some common ground, and in many ways, national parks offer that for people… throughout the planet,” Nimkin said. “There is great power in recognizing what this national park effort can mean and how to respond to it. It may not be as apparent in the state of Utah, for example, given the discord here.”

Dant said that if you ask a “roomful” of people if they have visited a national park, “nearly every hand will go up,” and if you ask if they thought doing so “was a remarkable experience… nearly all hands will stay up.”

“It’s a remarkable unifier in our society,” said Dant, who co-authored “Encyclopedia of American National Parks.”

Dant later described the Bears Ears process as “an example of grassroots coalition” and that “Native voices” were prioritized “for the first time.”

Arguing for consensus behind Bears Ears, Dant said that surveys indicated that the “general population” of Utah was favored the designation.

Dant then used the word “false” to respond to some arguments against Bears Ears, like farmers not having access to it and water rights going away from those who had them.
Others say it’s a matter of the federal government taking control, Dant said. “False — it was federal-frowned before,” she noted.

Williams then wanted to know if a president can reverse the designation of a monument by their predecessor. Prior experts have… concluded that the president “probably” cannot undo a prior presidential authority due to the Property Clause in the U.S. Constitution, Keiter said.

“There are several attorney general opinions and solicitor opinions from the Interior Department that reach the same conclusion,” added Keiter, the author of To Conserve Unimpaired: The Evolution of the National Park Idea and other books.

Dant added that monuments have shrunk but never been undone.

A Bishop staffer said if Congress was “not able” to move forward without action on disputed lands, “then it would, in fact, be the appropriate response by the president of the United States to create a national monument,” Nimkin said. “And the Public Lands Initiative had a part in San Juan County that would be created as a national conservation area with lesser protections, but it was essentially the same size as the 1.35 (million acres) that was protected now in the Bears Ears National Monument.”

Thus, Obama’s designation led to the “right size,” Nimkin said.

Environmental policy
Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief of High Country News, which covers Utah, was the speaker and a freelance journalist for a decade before he entered environmental reporting, thinking that climate change was the “pressing issue of the time,” said Emma Penrod, a Salt Lake Tribune environmental reporter who introduced Calvert.

Because of the magazine’s name, its board advised the publication’s reporters to limit its reporting on marijuana, Calvert said to chuckles.

Regulations to pursue clean air, clean water, and other land management were passed through legislation called the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Then environmental journalism became a watchdog on the government for these regulations, Calvert said.

“I think of us as helping the West (United States) explain itself to itself,” Calvert added.
High Country News was ready to go to press about sagebrush insurgency before the Ammon Bundy-led conflict at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon happened.

“We were six months ahead of the story,” Calvert said.

Besides Utah, the magazine reports on 10 states in the West including Alaska, which has similar policy issues as the other 10, Calvert said.

Calvert added he joked on a podcast that perhaps the $54 million in President Donald Trump’s military budget will include research about forest fires, as High Country News has a cover story on wildfires about once per year. He now regrets making that joke.

Marijuana legalization

Kate McKee Simmons is the marijuana editor of Westword Magazine. She said at a journalism conference in Salt Lake City that she supports marijuana legalization because it provides her employment. (Kate McKee Simmons)

Kate McKee Simmons of Westword Magazine has a beat solely on marijuana, as she works in Colorado and smoking the plant was legalized there.

A Brigham Young University student asked Simmons if she has the opportunity to present on the economy because of the economic influence of marijuana.

When I go to city council meetings, (council members) say ‘how will we pay for this? Oh — pot money,” Simmons replied. “They used it for a drug rehabilitation program — they use the money for (relatively good purposes).”

A Utah Valley University student and UVU Review reporter asked Simmons if she is worried about being “pigeon-holed” into covering marijuana the rest of her career.

“I had some interesting conversations with my parents. … I am lucky they support me,” Simmons said of covering the weed. “Professionally, I don’t want to move to a state that doesn’t permit legalized marijuana. It’s weird you can’t (smoke marijuana in Utah).”

Media law

The First Amendment protection of freedom of the press was less robust in the past, particularly before New York Times v. Sullvan in 1964, said David Reymann, a shareholder at Parr, Brown, Gee and Loveless, in Utah.

The nation saw the “infuse” of constitutional protections into common tort law, which the founders didn’t intend, Reymann added.

“The media needs room to make mistakes,” Reymann said. “You punish the media (for innocent mistakes), it’s a concern.” Jeff Hunt is the president of the firm.

“The main threat I see (to freedom of the press) is a president (Donald Trump) who is not only very disdainful of the news media and the constitutional role the news media plays but is totally paranoid about leaks,” Hunt said. “He’s trying to drive a storyline, not about substance and what happened… so I could very easily see this administration going after leakers.”

Jeff Hunt is the president of the law firm Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless. He said that President Donald Trump is a threat to freedom of the press. (

Hunt mentioned a discussion among the nation’s top freedom of the press lawyers at a New York conference two days after the election. It concerned having a “robust defense of journalists because (Trump targeting leakers) is a real risk that could happen in the new few years,” he said.

The panel, which included Ed Carter, BYU School of Communications director, was asked what happens in the subpoena process. Lawyers issue subpoenas under the authority of the court and reporters’ notes, recordings, outtake material relating to the stories in question and other material is subject to a subpoena, Hunt said.

If a hearing is closed, is a recording nevertheless kept at a hearing that a reporter can obtain? “That’s exactly correct,” Hunt said.

Does the same apply for an improperly closed meeting? Region 9 President McKenzie Romero asked. “Yes, under Utah’s Open Records Act, that is the remedy,” Hunt said.
Has there been any Utah court decision on the issue of invading the privacy of juveniles in a public hearing or space? Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch took photos with postal workers that implied that they supported him and they weren’t happy with that. They sued on the accounts of invasion of privacy and that the photos were published without the postal workers’ consent.

In Cox v. Hatch, a Utah court said that Hatch was protected because the postal workers were in a public place, Reymann said.

“If you are walking in a public place and are photographed, you have exposed yourself to the public view and a (media outlet) can publish (the photo),” Reymann said. “If it’s something false, or you are put in a false light,” that is a different story, he added.

A professor allegedly assaulted his girlfriend and the school reporter went to his lecture. Can the lecture be recorded? Public universities may “prohibit, in some cases, the recording without consent,” Reymann said.

Can private universities like Westminster or BYU say “get out” in all cases?

“We had a broadcast journalist (a student) saying he was on a public street and ‘you can’t make me move,’ but he didn’t realize he was on the campus,” Carter said. “Cooler heads prevailed a few days later and the video (made rounds) and made the (police) officer look like a jerk. I say to students that if a student or maybe faculty asks you to leave, you don’t have to, but if the president or police ask, you should because it’s private property.”

Almost all states have their own wiretap act, Reymann said.

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