On Dec. 28, then-President Barack Obama declared the Bears Ears area a National Monument, to be managed collaboratively by federal agencies and an inter-tribal coalition. The monument includes Cedar Mesa, Dark Canyon and, of course, the Bears Ears Buttes, sacred to several indigenous communities. The monument also includes Indian Creek, a renowned rock climbing area and previously a Bureau of Land Management special recreation area.
After hearing about Bears Ears and its potential effect on Indian Creek, Moab resident and rock climber Wade Plafcan began organizing local rock climbers to speak out on the issue.
“I didn’t hear much about climbers doing anything about it aside from just being aware that it was going on,” said Plafcan. “I thought it would be good to have local climber people being involved with it because it’s something that we care about deeply.”
Plafcan met with local organizations that support public lands and talked with other climbers in Moab and at Indian Creek about the issue.
“It’s hard sometimes to get climbers together to do anything but climb, so this is an attempt to get people together a little bit more to help to support it in a more direct way,” Plafcan said
Although slow to mobilize on the issue, Plafcan said, when it comes to Bears Ears, climbers — who often spend a great deal of time each year at Indian Creek — do care.
“Indian Creek is a world-class climbing destination so they really care about ... protecting what is sort of their home, a lot of the time,” he said. “The big thing for a lot of climbers is protecting it from too much development, mainly oil and gas and things like that.”
Those conversations led Plafcan to the idea of producing a video in support of the monument, to be shared on social media.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance [SUWA] provided funds for a banner reading “Climbers Protect Bears Ears.” Local videographer Scott Rogers volunteered to create and edit the video.
Plafcan, Rogers and a group of friends used a drone to film the two-minute video on March 17, at a route in Indian Creek known as Cactus Flower. In the video, two climbers ascend the route and unroll the banner.
“Indian Creek is a big place so we figured a drone would be the best way to get a dramatic shot of the banner coming down,” Rogers said.
The video has been shared on Facebook pages of Climbers for Bears Ears and SUWA.
But it is not just about rock climbers, Plafcan said.
“I don’t want to seem greedy as a climber, like it’s just about us. The Native American aspect ... affects a lot of people in the area,” he said. “The reason I’m focusing as a climber on it is just because, with so much going on right now, I feel like I have to focus on one thing ... And respecting everything else that goes along with [other] views, but I come at it from a climber’s point of view.”
In the coming weeks, organizers plan to put together another behind-the-scenes video featuring celebrity climbers talking about the importance of public lands.
“It’s obvious for most of us that live out here in Moab that we value public spaces and we value the freedom associated with those,” Rogers said. “It would be a shame to have some private corporation lease the land and fence it off and not allow people to use it ... Hopefully it inspires not only members of the climbing community but everyone in general to take a serious look at what could potentially happen to our open spaces and public places.”
Plafcan and others plan to sell T-shirts and hats bearing a logo designed by local artist Maddie Logowitz, and proceeds will be donated to the Access Fund, a climbers’ advocacy organization. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.