Mike Painter

The Fight for Western Wilderness

Recorded: March 27, 2017

The Executive Director for Californians for Western Wilderness, Mike Painter, shares his thoughts about Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, for which President Trump has proposed a reduction of 85% in size. Mike believes that we cannot just be cynical and complain about what is happening with our public lands, but that we can and should take specific actions. Watch this video to hear Mike's recommendations on how we can make our voices heard.

Mike Painter is the Executive Director of Californians for Western Wilderness, a nonprofit organization. Californians for Western Wilderness is a citizens organization founded to secure protection for the remaining wilderness areas in the western United States. The organization’s major focus is to create a constituency in California for wilderness in the West, and to encourage and facilitate direct citizen democracy through participation in administrative and legislative actions affecting wild lands in the West.


Mike Painter:   I’ve run Californians for Western Wilderness, which is a small citizen’s group that’s dedicated, both to preserving wilderness in the West, and also with a second goal of getting people involved in the political process.

Huey Johnson:   Also, we worked together prior to your launch, you got off on the wilderness.


Mike Painter:   One of the projects that you had me working with was Wangari Maathai Greenbelt Movement International.


Video Text: Wangari Maathai was an internationally renowned Kenyan environmental political activist and Nobel Laureate.

In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental NGO focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights.

Mike Painter:   A lot of what I learned working with her and hearing her approach to things also, has influenced my approach with Californians for Western Wilderness. She obviously had a completely different situation in Kenya, but she was a pro democracy advocate, and that got her into a lot of trouble. But here in the U.S., we also have problems with democracy where people feel totally cynical about what’s going on and justifiably so. I mean there’s a lot of reasons to be cynical. But, just being cynical doesn’t do any good. If you know what you’re doing, you can make the system work, at least part way. There are certain things, you know, that you need to know for working with Congress or for any of the agencies, and one of them is, is that you can’t just sign an online petition or just send in a pre printed post card. You have to have some kind of personal connection, both with your subject matter and with the office of the person that you’re talking to. And so that’s our goal, is to tell people you have to write a letter. You have to make a personalized phone call. The most important thing is to get out and get to some of these places so you know from your own experience what you’re talking about. The most useful comments are coming from people speaking from their own experience.

Huey Johnson:   Ansel Adams was…every day he wrote a letter when he got up criticizing Reagan. This went on for a long time and finally it got to Reagan personally, and he said, “Why does that guy, huge famous person, hate me so much? Every day I get a letter from him.” And someone said, “Well, why don’t you ask him.” So a meeting was arranged and they went behind closed doors and the press was waiting outside, and they had a discussion, and Ansel Adams came out and said, “That man knows the price of everything, the value of nothing,” to the press. He said, “I’ve been dying to do that.

Huey Johnson:   Give me your reflection on the Antiquities Act.

Mike Painter:   There’s been turned into a lot of opposition against the use of the Antiquities Act to designate large-scale monuments. Part of the whole Sagebrush Rebellion has turned against the designation of national monuments. There’s constantly proposals being introduced in Congress, either as stand alone single bills, or attached to other legislation, either trying to get rid of the Antiquities Act completely or limit its use in a particular state or things like that. We are seeing more and more of those kinds of proposals.

Huey Johnson:   What is the history of Native Americans and wilderness?

Mike Painter:   It’s a – that’s a complicated issue. The tribes have not always been supportive of wilderness. I think part of it though is from a misunderstanding of what wilderness means to people. They’ve always lived, lived in areas without making the distinction that this is a wild area, you know it’s a European – American sort of distinction saying that there’s some areas that should be left alone. And to a Native American that is like, this is where we live, so. What’s interesting with the Bears Ears National Monument that was designated last December by President Obama, is that the proposal actually came from Native American Tribes. This was not a conservationist proposal, initially.

Huey Johnson:   How large is it?

Mike Painter:   The designation turned out to be 1.3 million acres.

Huey Johnson:   Wow.

Mike Painter:   And it’s in two parts down in the southeast corner of Utah. And this is one of the first times the tribes actually came together and petitioned the government to say, “These lands are important and we need your help in protecting them.”

Video Text: On December 4, 2017 President Donald Trump reduced Bears Ears National Monument by 85%.

Total Acres of Bears Ears are 1.35 million acres and the reduction would be to a total of 228,784 acres.

On February 2, 2018 mining companies began staking claims in the newly-available and potentially ore-rich areas.

Legal scholars argue that the reduction is illegal and several federal lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s action.

Trump’s years in office are finite. We must persist and defend the integrity of wilderness.