SocraticGadfly: Jim Stiles, blowhard? Half blowhard? (updated)

January 18, 2018

Jim Stiles, blowhard? Half blowhard? (updated)

The iconic Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. (Author photo)
Jim Stiles, proprietor of the Canyon Country Zephyr online newsmagazine, likes to portray himself as the intellectual heir to Cactus Ed Abbey. Maybe I should say "THE heir" to emphasize that. And, what led me to this blog post was seeing High Country News run a retrospective on the 50th anniversary of "Desert Solitare," Abbey's memoir, environmental manifesto and quasi-anarchist screed about his years of seasonal ranger service at Arches National Monument, today a national park. I checked the Zephyr, which I sometimes like as a tweaker of the more mainstream HCN, to see if Stiles had something similar up, and he didn't yet.

(Update, Feb. 9: Stiles doesn't have anything specific to the 50th in his new February-March issue, either.)

Among his heirship angles is attacking eco-tourism as wrecking Moab, Utah in particular and the American West in general.

I'm no defender of swapping the single-industry mining or logging nature of many Western towns for one of tourism. And, per that link just above, Stiles is half right, maybe more. But, to say that eco-tourism has caused the problem is itself bullshit. I told High Country News the same when it wrote a semi-puff piece about Moab's retiring mayor, Dave Sakrison. And I'll say the same now, on this updating, about Stiles reprinting a semi-puff piece about a former Grand County commissioner Bill Heddon.

Western small towns and counties, unless forbidden by state law, can ameliorate this issues with eco-tourism (or the stagnant wages of extractive economies on the decline) by:
1. Increasing the local minimum wage
2. Getting developers to build affordable housing, including through either the carrot of subsidies or the stick of requiring it as part of a larger development.

Stiles mentions neither of those. (Moab's mayor never mentioned trying to get the rest of the city council to sign off on such, either.)

That's not all. Other actions could include:
3. Funding for other things to broaden the local economy done via an increased hotel-motel tax, which would primarily tag high-end tourism.
4. Getting the nearest recreationally developed federal area to work better to promote local attractions and events.
5. Getting counties to adopt county zoning policies outside of city limits.

Stiles' ERMIGOD GREEN TOURISM reached shitstorm level over the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. With Trump's (will it stand?) downsizing of BENM, Stiles reiterates claims that national monument designation involved no additional protection, gave American Indian tribes in the area no additional empowerment, and other things.

He's half-right on the first; the protection would have been even better were it to have been moved to the custody of the National Park Service.

But, he's not all right, and that's because he's all wet on No. 2. Jonny Thompson covered that by noting specifically:
A monument manager would be overseen by a commission, made up of one representative from each of the five tribes, and one each from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM and National Park Service. The tribes, collectively, would have the loudest voice in decision-making.
That's more than just "advisory," Jim.

Yes, most of the tribal powers with Bears Ears are advisory, not statutory. But not all of them.

He then ventures into Anglocentric stances from the top, when he claims:
For the purposes of this story I refer to the area of Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa as “Bears Ears.” But please note that in the forty-seven years I’ve known and wandered southeast Utah, literally NOBODY ever referred to the region as ‘The Bears Ears”  until two years ago. That title is a piece of product packaging and marketing by mainstream environmental organizations and the outdoor recreation industry and has never been a name that meant anything more than the two buttes that lie along the southern edge of Elk Ridge…JS
Gee, Jim, maybe you should expand your circles.

First, what do Navajos, or Ute, or Hopi, call "Cedar Mesa"? Or "Grand Gulch"? We know what the Navajos call "Bears Ears," and that is "Bears Ears."

Second, and related, what do they call the entire area? (Stiles can positively invoke southwestern American Indians in other cases, but it seems as selective, and as personally motivated, as some gang green groups he likes to attack.)

Third, other national parks and monuments are named after just one portion of the territory. Saguaro National Park, which surely was not called "Saguaroland" 100-plus years ago, has more than just saguaros. Really, Jim, this is dumb shit.

Fourth, related to Point No. 2 on my first bullet points? Why not empower tribal cops for patrolling? Since this is outside any reservation, I presume that they could, as appropriately deputized, arrest Anglos, which SCOTUS says they can't on their reservations. The "Jim Chees" comment aside, Stiles in that piece, and per this HCN submission of his last year, seems conflicted or schizo in general about the idea of antiquities protection actually being put in place.

More seriously, Stiles' alternative idea for Bears Ears isn't all bad. But, more seriously, 500 BLM cops aren't going to enforce ARPA any more than now. So, let the tribes put 500 more cops in there, paid by the feds. Even with that, or even more, because of that, we're going to have a Bundyville. You'll need to make it 1,000. More thoughts below the fold.

Well, maybe 500 more would be enough, or even fewer, if equipped properly enough. But Stiles — and his blanket defenders at HCN comments — refuse to offer a number. I know, because I've asked both him and them at both sites. Crickets, so far, from Stiles himself.

And, beyond Anasazi artifacts and skeletons, there's also a few dinosaur bones in Bears Ears and a helluva lot more in Grand Staircase, which Trump also is (on paper, pending legal action) downsizing.

(Update, Feb. 26: With perfect, or perfectly bad, timing for both Trump and Stiles, new dinosaur-like fossils have been found in an area that Trump wants to remove from Bears Ears.)

Well, one person at HCN has now suggested 20. Sorry, not close.

I'm sorry, but when high-dollar pothunters and bonehunters can buy drones relatively inexpensively — drones to spy the locations of your 20 cops ... 20 cops are nowhere near enough, in my book.

My rhetorical 500 on my blog may be somewhat too high, but, especially if we look at GSE as well (since Trump wants to downsize it, too), 100 minimum is my answer. And, with at least a dozen of them flying drones themselves — with thermal vision, etc.

If we want protection let's do this right. And, if you don't want drones there, and equal them to helicopters of 40 years ago, per Stiles? Sorry, then, if not 500, we're at 250, not 100.

Bears Ears is more than 2,000 square miles. The actual greater area, short of Canyonlands, is 3,000. GSE is another 3,000. Canyon of the Ancients is more than 1,000. Pothunting and dinosaur bones, as Craig Childs and others know, have money floating around.

Oh, we ned cops who won't back off when faced with Bundyite types.

So, answer up, folks. Or don't, and have me continue to say that "sentiments aren't actions." That's whether you refuse to be specific about the number of cops needed to patrol against Anasazi and dinosaur threats, or the alleged desire for economic development controls without any implementation.

Now, to additional talking points.

And, Jim, progress in gear is often good. So what if a CamelBak or other brand is called "portable hydration"? It uses no more plastic than the inside liner of a 2-quart canteen of 40 years ago, is a lot lighter, and less bulky. My Kelty tent is a lot less bulky than an old Army pup tent. (The CamelBak brand's parent company has some gunz ethical issues, though.)

Beyond that, while Stiles is half-right, it's rarely more than that. Among areas where he's not close to all-right, per Paul Larmer, is to blame only environmentalists for the "amenities economy." Every been to Aspen or Vail, Jim? Jackson Hole? Or, even closer to you, Park Cities? The ski industry is worse than greenies.

Ditto on people building second homes in Montana or whatever. Most of them have nothing to do with environmental tourism. Stiles is conflating problems and issues with others.

On the third hand, with a company like Patagonia hiring as an "ambassador" the guy who climbed Delicate Arch, sometimes he is more than half right. He's 100 percent right for calling out Friends of Cedar Mesa for the idea of wanting to peddle secret hikes at $10K a pop.

Yes, per a Stiles fanatic on HCN, there's a high degree of arrogance.

On the fourth hand, Vermillion Cliffs has been a national monument for over a decade itself. There's beautiful hiking there, but permits restrict people in some areas. Similar permits could have been used at Bears Ears as originally sized.

On the fifth hand, to go to another part of Stiles, not everybody who goes to Arches is always hiking 40 miles a day with backpack. Nor do we think carrying a CamelBak rather than that old plastic-line aluminum canteen, let alone old Army surplus ones, lessens the value of the hike.

And, per an HCN commenter of a decade ago, and also an HCN review of his book, I do think he is a son-of-an-Ed cultist, self-created, and he likes that. And, like Cactus Ed, maybe he's not all environmentalist. Maybe he's got a bit — or a bit too much — of Ed's anarchist blood. That said, I think his anarchist level is less, and less activist than Ed's. I've never heard Stiles talk about throwing car tires off canyon rims.

And finally, Jim, speaking of tourism being a new version of extractive industry, how much money do you make portraying yourself as "THE Heir" of Abbey and "THE Protector" of what's truly best for that area? I mean, you clearly, premeditatedly, spin Abbey mythology. (And Stiles does that while seeming to avoid Abbey's dark side on things like immigration, as Charles Bowden noted, and things like alcoholism, which most of Abbey's groupies ignore.)

What Stiles needs to do is address the issue of capitalism and hypercapitalism.

Or address the West's refusal to engage in more city-, county-, and state-level regulatory work, per my five points near the top of the piece.

In that way, he may be a bit like Ed the Anarchist.

Stiles also ignores that El Malpais has been a national monument — and an NPS one, no less — for at least as long as GSE, created by St. Ronald of Reagan, no less. Now, it's not primarily preserved for American Indian heritage reasons, but it does have Anasazi sites and is of course near Laguna and Acoma. Never had this degree of problems.

Per my half-facetious at most, half-serious at minimum, comments on HCN, and I think one on Stiles' site, maybe the problem is with Utahns. Or Mormon ones in particular.


Update, Oct. 20, 2018: Stiles has now graduated from being an Ed Abbey propagandist to a Mormon propagandist, claiming Mormons in rural Utah have suffered as much as American Indians. (No, really! And I've commented there.)

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