Today, June 8, is a day you might call a monumental day. Today is the anniversary of the Antiquities Act, which gives the President of the United States the authority to designate national monuments from federal lands. 101 years ago today, our government thought that America’s public lands were worth protecting. Today, that isn’t the case.
I got the chance to sit down with Tommy Caldwell and talk about our public lands and what they mean to him, and thought it’d be a fitting conversation to publish today.
What do public lands mean to you?
I spend probably more than 50% of the days of my life on public lands. They are super valuable.
How does climbing fit into environmentalism?
The way I see it is climbing is rapidly growing. People who go outside and climb a lot have an intimate relationship with the outdoors. They really fall in love with it, they understand the value. A lot of times they turn into environmentalists. There are people on the Hill, people in DC who are climbers. We can go there as climbers, like we did with the Access Fund, and tell our stories. We can make our voices heard and it connects with them. It’s an exciting time.
What are areas that you are most interested in preserving access to and conserving?
Right now, the Utah desert is high on my list, especially Bears Ears. Indian Creek has some of the most unique climbing in the world. It’s also where I fell in love with my wife. I’ve been going down there and helping Patagonia make videos and talking to the local climbers there, the people who just want to spend their time wandering around the desert. There’s so much cool archaeological stuff and other things waiting to be discovered.
Yosemite is really where my heart is in a lot of ways. That’s an area that needs less of my help. The Park Service and climbers are on top of it; there’s a lot of people taking care of it.
How does having kids affect how you protect or fight for our public lands?
I heard this great quote the other day, “We are not inheriting our public lands from our grandparents, but we are borrowing them from our children.” I think this really rings true today.
Having children makes you think about the future a lot more, past your own life. I spend a lot of time with my kids outside. I think getting kids out young is crucial to instilling in them a respect for the land. It teaches them how to recognize ways to practice sustainable outdoor activities. I try to be a good ambassador and example for them.
What are organizations that you feel passionately about that are advocating for climbers?
I’m all about the Access Fund. I was a board member with the Access Fund for six years. I do everything they ever ask me to. There was one year where it was all business men on the board, then there was me, the one young climber. They said “We want everyone to donate $2000 dollars.” I was like, that’s 10% of my income, so I guess I won’t go to Europe this year… I feel this huge allegiance to try and do the right thing. Climbing has given me so much, and I’m trying to give back.
What are ways that you personally give back to public lands?
I’ve been climbing for 30 years, I feel a sense of responsibility. It’s really easy to get involved, it’s all about taking the initiative.
I’ve done a few trail building days with the Front Range Climbers Coalition. I’ll come in and do a slideshow at a climbing gym to help them raise money. I’m in a unique position where things like fundraisers become a better use of my time.
I also do advocacy work. I went to DC and participated in Climb the Hill with the Access Fund. I learned that writing letters actually works and helps move the needle. Write your senators. It is effective.
The comment period for Bears Ears has closed but 26 of our monuments are still up for review. Head to monumentsforall.org to leave your thoughts for the Department of Interior about our public lands. There’s a drag and drop form that makes it super easy. The monumentsforall.org comment site is being managed by the Center for Western Priorities in collaboration with a variety of the big conservation groups.
All images are of national monuments up for review, courtesy of the BLM.