July was a busy time for local activists willing to be arrested for their causes. Dozens of people have been arrested or convicted of hindering “progress” on public lands. Most of those involved should be lauded for their passionate activism, but the actions of a few have hurt us all and turned my stomach.
Just over the Mesa County border and off the first exit from I-70 in Utah is the site of the United States first tar sands operation. Tar sands are three times more polluting than crude oil and use four to 15 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced.
A deceptively named Canadian company, U.S Oil Sands, has leased 32,000 acres of land for tar sands development in the Colorado River Basin, which provides drinking water for 40 million people. So far, the company has leveled 80 acres of pristine forest and desert ecosystems in that area.
For several months, Utah Tar Sands Resistance has been busy training volunteers in methods of peaceful resistance with the intention of blocking developers from destroying the landscape and increasing climate changing pollution. Their biggest act of resistance thus far took place on July 21, resulting in 21 arrests and what sounds like a bit of police brutality.
Although Yellowstone National Park is not directly in our backyard like the Utah tar sands development is, I wrote in July about the recent sentencing hearing of the Grand Junction activist arrested for blocking a Yellowstone road where pregnant and nursing wild bison were loaded into trucks headed for slaughterhouses.
I offer a sincere thank you to all the folks at Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Buffalo Field Campaign for their commitment to the citizens of our planet and for the risks they are taking to protect our wild places, water, air and children of future generations. They are giving their all to make the world a better place for the rest of us.
MEANWHILE, IN GRAND JUNCTION
Local Republicans and Tea Party activists have connected with people all over western Colorado, eastern Utah, and even Nevada to fight against Federal protection of our public lands. They’ve plowed roads through sensitive areas of BLM land known for threatened plants, ancient Native American artifacts and burial lands.
They’ve broken into two Colorado national parks, and they’ve participated in armed standoffs against officials trying to get a rancher to pay the million dollars he owes the American people for BLM land he’s leasing from us.
On July 21, 2013, exactly one year before the 21 arrests at the Utah tar sands, according to the Western Slope Watchdog “23 citizen activists wielding chainsaws, torches, shovels and picks reopened a historical road to vehicular use” in Montrose County outside of Olathe. Ringleader David Justice insisted the act was not “civil disobedience,” but rather “civic duty.”
On Oct. 16, 2013, during the shutdown of the Federal government led by our Republican-controlled House of Representatives, participants in that illegal road opening joined others from the Mesa County Patriots and cut the locks on a Park Service road accessing Colorado National Monument.
After a suspenseful, long wait, Justice was arrested by the FBI and U.S. Marshalls on July 17, 2014. He’s charged with property damage of more than $1,000 and faces 10 years in prison. (KKCO News)
What Justice and his Tea Party, Patriot, and Republican friends fail to understand is that Federal lands belong to all of us. The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management are responsible for looking out for the best interests of the land and for making sure something wild, natural and healthy is left for future generations. (Unfortunately, BLM is legally required to balance the interests of extraction industries into the equation.)
When public lands are abused by a few, those people are taking something from the rest of us. Their need for immediate gratification should not supersede the rights of everyone else and of future generations.
We can only hope that recent arrests will help slow down environmental destruction and keep our land safe from the likes of David Justice and U.S. Tar Sands.
A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at email@example.com.