KCBX Two-Way: Brent Rose's 27 Monuments mission

Jul 6, 2017

On June 30, KCBX News invited an out-of-town guest to the studio - journalist and filmmaker Brent Rose. Rose is the creator of the 27 Monuments Project, his effort to bring attention to the federal government’s current designation review of 27 national monuments around the country. The deadline for the American public to submit comments on the Trump Administration's national monument review is July 10, 2017.

KCBX: What are you doing here in San Luis Obispo?

ROSE: A few weeks ago I started the 27 Monuments project in response to the Department of the Interior’s current reevaluation of 27 of our national monuments, which could lose their protections altogether or just be shrunk. And these are amazing, beautiful, special places. My goal is to show that to everybody and get that on people's radar, because currently there's so much going on, especially with this administration, and we've only got until July 10 to register our comments with the Department of the Interior comment page. So I'm trying to raise as much awareness as possible and drive people to that comment page to raise their voices and be heard.

KCBX: We've been covering [the review] because we have the Carrizo Plain, which is a big part of San Luis Obispo County. Our congressman recently said that in April, when there was a superbloom, 14,000 people alone visited the Carrizo Plain. Now that means a lot of tourism dollars. When I last reported on it, at that time there were about 150,000 comments. That seems like a lot, but if you think about the population of the United States, that's not that much. How important are these comments?

ROSE: I think they're very important, because it shows that there is consensus out there, that this is a bipartisan issue that people really care about. And I've been speaking to Democrats and Republicans everywhere I've gone so far, and it seems to be really important to a lot of people - across the board. The good news is the comments have gotten way up since then...we're starting to get the word out and people are starting to catch on. And also, that page doesn't reflect comments that go to some place like MonumentsForAll.org. They're collecting their own comments and they've got tons coming in. But when they submit their big chunk of comments to the Department of the Interior, it registers them as one comment on their website, even though it may be hundreds of thousands.

KCBX: I did not realize that. Well, I'm glad that you're here to tell us that!

ROSE: Those numbers can be a little bit misleading on the Department of the Interior website. The point is to just keep commenting, keep going and MonumentsForAll is a great resource, incidentally, it has little bits about each of the monuments in question and they will make sure that those comments get delivered to the Department of Interior, even if the number doesn't get registered on the website.

KCBX: OK got it. All right, let's back up and start with your journey, your personal journey. Where do you live and what was the impetus that drove you out on the road?

ROSE: Right. So where I live even is a slightly complicated answer. I was living in L.A. most recently, that was about two years ago, and I decided I wanted to try something different. I was already a freelance journalist and I could already work from wherever. So I decided to push that to the logical extreme, and I sold a bunch of stuff and I bought this big van and I outfitted it with a lot of technology - from solar panels and wi-fi to a safe and colored, changing lights and stuff like that - and I just hit the road. So I've been on the road full time for almost two years now, driving around the country, looking for stories to tell. It's taken me about 50,000 miles or so at this point. And I was out there on the road and I was trying to figure out a way to make this project mean something in the grand scheme of things...I wanted to find a way to give back. You know, I'm having a great time in and had a lot of really interesting adventures and met a lot of cool people. But I wanted to try to do something good for the country. I’d been speaking with my friend Lynsey Dyer, who's a pro skier and she was like, you know, 'if we could find some kind of adventure for a cause, that would be amazing.' And I remembered that I heard something about national monuments being under threat, so I pulled over - this was just driving through Nevada one day - and Googled it and I realized, 'oh wow, the comment period is open now. I had no idea. And it's only up till July 10. I had no idea about that either.' I looked at the list of monuments that were threatened, and I saw these amazing, amazing places and I said, ‘I got to do something about this.’ So I did a quick calculation - I have a friend who works at a data mapping company and I fed him all the data points for the different monuments. I said, 'is there any possible way I could hit all of these before the deadline is over?' And he said, 'yeah actually,' and he showed me the mathematically most efficient route to hit, and within a week or so I had built the 27Monuments.org webpage and set up a Facebook page for it as well...it primarily exists on my Instagram and Facebook. But yeah, I just hit the road with very little sleep and very little idea what I was doing. The idea has been to show a short video from each monument, just to highlight why each specific monument is unique and special and why it was made a monument in the first place. And that's something I've seen every single time I've been to one of these places, is that each one has something wonderful about it, whether it's a historical importance, or whether it's incredible natural beauty, or biological diversity, or of geological import or archaeological import... these places are just amazing and I'm dying to go back to them already. But it's tough, you know, going through it at breakneck speed.

KCBX: Right. OK. And so today you are in San Luis Obispo, and you're off to go see the Carrizo Plain. What do you know about the Carrizo Plain?

ROSE: I know it's of great historical import and cultural significance to a lot of Native American tribes. And I’ve heard about the superbloom that happens after drought. It looks like Alice in Wonderland out there. So I'm super excited about that. I've missed the bloom, I think.

KCBX: Right. I was there in April and it was it was kind of on its way out when I was there, so it'll probably be pretty dry, but still stark and beautiful.

ROSE: I've seen so many photos of it, so I'm bummed to miss that. But it seems like this wonderful and sacred place, and it seems like it does a lot of good for the local economy as well. And so I'm going to go out there and shoot some video, and really try to highlight that as best I can and then head off to the next one, which is the San Gabriel National Monument in the Angeles National Forest, just south of L.A.

KCBX: Bears Ears [National Monument in Utah] was a special thing because the comment period was way shorter - half of the time, I think. And people say there was a lot of opposition to Bears Ears being designated a monument, and that some people are happy about [the review]. Have you been to Bears Ears, and what have you found so far?

ROSE: First of all, they actually extended the comment period because there was so much public outcry. Originally it was just 45 days versus the 120 that everybody else had. And the public was so outraged by this that they've extended it now to go to July 10, like the rest of them. Bears Ears is interesting because to make it a national monument, there was an unprecedented joining of five different tribes, who worked together for years to get this incredibly sacred land designated. I mean, it's amazing. Everywhere I went there, it took my breath away. You see these immaculately preserved petroglyphs, and you can see why it's so important. What people don't realize is the creation of a monument is a very public, very open thing. So this was open to the public. People had a chance to comment along the way and it took years, and there was hundreds of thousands of people involved in this thing. Everyone from religious leaders to local tribes to local businesses - people really got involved in this. And in contrast, this review period that's going on with Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior is extremely closed. We don't know what's going on, but we do know that when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went there, he spent four days in the area to investigate the situation. He spent one hour with the tribal coalition responsible for making it into a monument, and the rest of the time with the opposition. These are the business leaders, these are the oil and gas companies who want to drill there and they have outright said that they wanted to drill in Bears Ears. I've heard the argument that these monuments are just a “federal land grab” and that has never made any sense to me. Because it's not like the federal government is making a lot of money off this - these are rugged places, natural places that are open to all of us and they charge very little, if anything at all, to visit them. Whereas selling these lands off to oil and gas companies - that to me sounds like a “federal land grab.” That to me sounds like they're just trying to make a profit off of these incredibly important and sacred places.

KCBX: Recently I reported on Ryan Zinke’s announcement that the [federal government is] giving a bunch of money back to local governments - it's called PILT - payments in lieu of taxes - and it all has to do with the value of the federal lands. Can you speak to that a little bit?

ROSE: [Zinke] was really going on a full on PR campaign with that. You know, he tweeted out one for each state, exactly the dollar amount they would be getting back and you know, it's just waving a big number in front of people to see with what their state could be getting. But in actuality, they're probably going to lose out on money because these monuments bring in a lot of tourist dollars to the local towns and communities. Outdoor outfitters make a lot of money off of these... local economies and restaurants make a lot of money off of these. Most of these places are open for hunting and fishing, and businesses associated with those activities make a lot of money off of it. So dangling a number, “your state will be getting $9 million dollars back,” well, they're probably making $20 or $30 million from the monument. For example, Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks in New Mexico says it brought in $9 million in 2014, and $19 million in 2015. So it's only going up, as this monument has been established, and as word got out of all the mountain biking and hiking and rock climbing that was available, more and more people are being drawn to it. So it seems to me that it is actually robbing the states, especially states that have multiple national monuments like California. Six of California's monuments are under threat right now. So if they're planning on giving us back $35 million dollars but trying to scrap our monuments, we're definitely losing in that trade.

KCBX: So, say the monument designations do get reversed, and oil and gas companies move in. Some say they'll bring jobs that will make up for the loss in tourism. Is that a valid argument?

ROSE: It's tough to say. A lot of people think these fossil fuel jobs are on their way out as it is, and that these are areas that could benefit from clean energy jobs, which pay really well and which don't destroy the local area and the local economy. So yeah, I think we can keep these places open and wild and beautiful and promote the local tourism and still create other jobs in other ways.

KCBX: Have you encountered support for this review [of national monument statuses]?”

ROSE: No, I haven't. I've heard [stories] of support for the review, and those are usually in the form of ranchers who are afraid that they will lose their grazing rights. Anybody who already has grazing rights when when a monument is created...they retain their grazing rights. That's all grandfathered in, even mining rights, drilling rights - that's all set. But there is a fear that's been generated that they could theoretically lose their grazing rights, even though there's no precedent for that. That's the only real support I've heard for it - typically from big business. It's really mostly the oil and gas companies who are putting a lot of money into that. And certain congressmen who stand to profit off of that kind of thing. But most of the locals I've spoken to - including, like I said, many Democrats and many Republicans - are really against this. They believe in these lands - these are some of their favorite places for canoeing and kayaking and hunting and fishing and camping and all these outdoor activities. A lot of my Republican friends are frankly a lot more outdoorsy than a lot of my Democrat friends...these places mean a lot to them.

KCBX: Gosh, you've been to so many so far, and as you said, each one is spectacular. What really stands out in your mind recently, and what are you looking forward to?

ROSE: Recently I almost got stranded completely in Sequoia - Giant Sequoia National Monument. My dad and I took a wrong turn somewhere - my dad's been driving with me for the last week or so because he saw I wasn't getting any sleep, so he's like ‘how about I come and I'll drive and you can edit video while I'm driving,’ which has increase my sleep by an hour or two. Anyway, so that's good. So we ended up on - I mean I've got a big van that's rear wheel drive only, and we ended up on a ATV/jeep road, and we had to rebuild this bridge there that had washed out just to get over it. And yeah, it was pretty intense. We ended up spending the night in the middle of nowhere, just because we lost daylight and didn't know we were going.

KCBX: That's what these wild places are for, to have adventures!

ROSE: Yes, it is something people don't realize, is that these national monuments are kind of like the wild stepbrothers of national parks - national parks tend to be very groomed and they have roads leading right up the attractions and you go and look at them…

KCBX: You stay at [Yosemite’s] Ahwahnee Hotel and have a cocktail…

ROSE: Yes, and there’s nothing to disparage it or anything like that - the national parks are incredible. But national monuments are very rugged, they're out there in the middle of nowhere and if you find a spot you want to see, you might not see another person out there. I had to take a mountain bike down a closed road yesterday to get the shot I wanted...of the sixth largest tree in the world - and I didn't see another human being for three hours while I was doing it. These are wonderful wild places that have been unchanged in thousands of years in many cases. And if we exploit them and destroy them.. like we can't undestroyed them. There's no - there's no taking that back the way these things naturally develop.

KCBX: And what are you looking forward to?

ROSE: I'm really looking forward to the Carrizo Plain. I'm looking forward to the last few desert stops in Southern California and Arizona, and then I'm hopping a flight to Maine to visit Katahdin, which will be the last the last stop on this trip. But I'm also doing videos for the marine monuments that are under threat. Five of them are off the coast. So I'm pulling footage from various Explorer programs and making little videos for them.

KCBX: I don't know if any of the marine national monuments [under threat] are in California waters...they are all far off in the Pacific?

ROSE: Yes, there's the Marianas Trench, which is insane to me that we're even considering opening it up. It's the deepest known spot in the entire world - we've explored the moon more than we've explored the Marianas Trench, and yet we're considering opening up for drilling. It kind of blows my mind that that's even being considered, but that's one of the things that's happening.

KCBX: OK. You're living in my dream. I look forward to watching the videos, and planning my own little mini-vacation trip of visiting these places, I would love to.

ROSE: We've only got till July 10th to weigh in, so please make your voices heard or if you have a little extra time call your local congressman and make sure they know how you feel about the situation.

KCBX: Thank you, Brent, for coming in and stopping on your whirlwind tour, on your way to the Carrizo Plain.

ROSE: Thank you for helping me get the word out.

That was KCBX's Greta Mart in conversation with journalist and filmmaker Brent Rose, about his 27 Monuments.org project. Find him on Instagram at “brentdangerrose” or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/27Monuments/.