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Public Trust

Q&A with Patagonia on the fight for Public Lands

A few weeks ago, our friends at Patagonia released a new documentary, Public Trust, detailing the role public lands play in solving the climate crisis and the on-going fight to protect these important areas. In Public Trust, Patagonia follows different individuals fighting for the land in 3 distinct conflicted areas: Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Recently, we asked our community what questions they had about this film & the issue of public lands in general. Hans Cole, Head of Environmental Activism at Patagonia, took the time to answer some of these questions below. To learn more, watch the entire Public Trust film and see how you can take action below.

Update on the Fight


Question from community: I remember hearing about Bears Ears National Monument a few years ago – can you give an update on the current status of that land, as well as the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument? Both seem to have largely dropped out of the news cycle.

Answer from Hans: In 2016, President Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.35 million acre protected area in Southeastern Utah. The effort to protect the area was led and inspired by the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition – an historic coming together of five sovereign tribal nations, all of whom have deep ancestral and present-day connection to the land.  The area is one of the most important cultural landscapes in our nation – with literally thousands of archaeological, culturally significant and sacred sites.  And, it’s an area that many in our outdoor community – climbers, hikers, backpackers and more – have come to love.  It is a spectacularly beautiful and awe-inspiring place, with opportunity for quiet communing with nature, recreation and adventure.  Since President Trump and his Administration slashed the Monument by 85% in 2017, Patagonia has joined with the Intertribal Coalition and other partners to push back on that decision using all tools at our disposal.  That has included a lawsuit against the Administration, grant funding to the Intertribal Coalition and to local groups like Utah Dine Bikeyah and Friends of Cedar Mesa, and most recently featuring the Bears Ears protection effort in our film Public Trust.  (if you haven’t yet, you can watch the film for free here.

Right now, we’re still awaiting the results of the lawsuit – and, at the same time, we know that with a change in Administration and/or Congress after the election, we could see a major opportunity to restore the Monument.  We are supporting the Intertribal Coalition’s original vision of a 1.9 million acre Monument, co-managed by the tribal nations, which would protect this area from oil/gas development, uranium mining, and other unwise development. 

Grand Staircase-Escalante is indeed a separate National Monument in southern Utah, equally worthy of protection – and that Monument, established by President Clinton in 1996, was also slashed by President Trump in 2017, by about 50%.  Separate lawsuits have been filed to challenge that proclamation.

Understanding the Complex Nature of Public Lands


Question from Community: Why does it matter who owns the land? What’s the difference between federal and state ownership? Can we somehow reclaim more of America to be public lands?

Answer from Hans: First, it’s critical to acknowledge that all United States lands, public and private, are the ancestral lands of Indigenous people and Tribal nations, most of whom were forcibly removed from their land.  Given this history, we look for opportunities to support indigenous-led land and water protection and management.  In the present day, there’s clearly a complex system of ownership and control over lands and waters in the U.S.  There are 614 million acres (26.6 percent of the US) that are held in trust for the public and managed by the federal government, mostly through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Forest Service (USFS), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS). Approximately 14 percent of this land has some measure of protection from development and resource extraction (wilderness areas, national monuments and national parks, for example).  If land is held by the federal government, there are opportunities to extend that protection – through establishment of protective designations, good management planning, and policies that prevent unwise and damaging resource extraction.

States also have control of some lands within their borders.  Some people advocate for greater state control over public lands. But, historically, when states have been entrusted with public lands by the federal government, many have had no problem with selling those lands for a profit to private corporations and developers. In fact, to date, states have sold 70% of the public trust lands placed under their control to the highest bidder. So – it is critically important which entity holds the land, and there are huge opportunities to continue working with our government, tribal nations, and local groups to support greater protection.

Finally, we are supporting a global movement to protect 30% of our lands and waters by the year 2030, on the way to protecting 50% by 2050.  Scientists agree that to prevent a mass extinction crisis, support a growing global population, and address climate change, we must hit some of the large-scale conservation targets at a global scale.  If we are to contribute to this in the U.S., we need to work on policy that supports those goals – and, we need to work at the community level, and in coordination with tribal nations and local governments, to seek out opportunities to meet these goals while also supporting local people.

Taking Action


Question from the community: What is the most impactful thing someone could do as a regular citizen to voice support for protecting these places?

Answer from HansGreat question, I’ll share a couple of ideas:
1) Given the election is in less than 1 week – everyone needs to get out and vote, and vote for candidates who have indicated on the campaign trail and proven through their past record that they will protect our lands, waters, climate, and communities.  You can find some great resources and endorsements through the League of Conservation Voters, and Patagonia has an election center that you can visit.

2) Once you vote – you can start communicating with your local, state and national elected officials – telling them how you feel about protecting wild places.  You can call or write, email or tweet, most elected officials these days.  Just look up their website and let them know how strongly you feel about these issues.

3) I’d also recommend you find local grassroots nonprofit groups in your area, who are working on protecting places, to support.  Check out our Action Works platform, to find great local and regional groups that Patagonia has funded within the past 2 years.

4) And, if you visit areas like the Bears Ears, now or in the future, please do so with respect for the many cultural and sacred sites – here’s a great resource, with some guidelines to do so in the Bears Ears region.



Question from the Community: What else can I do with this information to help? What other ways is Patagonia helping to protect public lands?

Answer from Hans: One of the best things you can do to help is to support some of the incredible grassroots groups working on the ground to protect these places.  Often you can donate money, which is always helpful – but many also have action alerts, volunteer opportunities or other ways to engage.  Here are some of the groups we recommend, that are working on the places featured in our Public Trust film:

 Utah Dine Bikeyah
Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition
Friends of Cedar Mesa
Gwich’in Steering Committee
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters
Save the Boundary Waters
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Conservation Lands Foundation

 Patagonia will continue to fund groups working in this space – we typically provide small grants to over 1,000 groups annually through our program.  We will also seek out every opportunity to use our brand voice to advocate and campaign for land and water protection.  Exactly how that will look will largely depend on the results of the election next week.



Question from the Community: Can you share additional resources/websites people can go to learn more about other lands under threat other than the three places discussed in the film?  

Answer from Hans: Given we fund so many great groups in this space, I think my best recommendation is to head to our Action Works platform, put in your address or another geography you’re interested in, and check out the groups listed there.  We do particularly encourage support of indigenous-led organizations working to protect our environment, lands and waters – here are just a few:

Utah Dine Bikeyah
Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition
Friends of Cedar Mesa
Native Movement
Honor the Earth
Indigenous Environmental Network
Native Women’s Wilderness