Patagonia released a documentary produced by Yvon Chouinard, the company's founder, and Academy Award winner Robert Redford titled “Public Trust” on Friday, Sept. 25. “Public Trust” highlights the fight over public lands in the U.S. while it follows individuals from around the country as they try to prevent the sale of public lands to gas, oil and mining corporations. The film also shines a light on the current climate crisis as well as argues for the democratic importance of public lands. 

Director David Byars started the film by speaking with Hal Herring, an award-winning journalist who has written for The Economist and The Atlantic, among others. Herring is a public lands advocate who primarily writes about the threat to public lands in the U.S. “The future of the American public lands is as important to our nation as the Bill of Rights or the Constitution itself,” Herring said. “The freedom to experience your own land, your own dirt, your own mountains, your own rivers. These are cornerstones of the American experiment.” 

In Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been a contentious area of debate since the Reagan administration. Bernadette Demientieff of the Gwich’in Nation in Alaska has been fighting to protect the ANWR and the caribou that live on it, both of which are major parts of the Gwich’in tribe’s culture. Opening up the ANWR to oil production has been a goal of the Alaska Republican party for decades, with Congressman Don Young R-AK famously saying, “...it’s like the hair on your head, if you’re going to pull one hair you’re not going to miss it,” at a Congressional hearing. The GOP’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act opened up drilling in the ANWR after Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK made it a condition on her support for the bill. 

The last 30 minutes of the documentary focused on the Trump Administration’s rollbacks and deregulations in the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the ANWR in Alaska. The film producers took a special interest in President Donald Trump and former Secretary of the Interior and Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke. In 2017, the Trump Administration drastically modified President Barack Obama's National Monument status for the Bears Ears National Monument, which originally protected 1.35 million acres. The monument was established in 2016 to protect Navajo sacred land from fossil fuel production. Patagonia sued the Trump Administration after Trump’s proclamation. In a CNN interview, Chouinard said “...the president stole your land.” Chouinard called the government “evil” and said, “I’m not going to sit back and let evil win.”

Joel Clement, the former Director of the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Policy Analysis, was interviewed because he raised alarms that the Trump Administration was working to privatize public lands, becoming the first whistleblower of the Trump era. “This administration had agendas designed to serve industry not the American people,” said Clement. Later on, the film stresses that undermining the Antiquities Act of 1906 puts every national monument at risk. The Antiquities Act gives the president the power to save land from industry by declaring it a national monument. 

In the state of Montana, the battle over public lands rages on. Gov. Steve Bullock D-MT has been a public lands advocate for his entire career serving as both attorney general and governor.  Patagonia endorsed Steve Bullock on Wednesday, Oct. 7, releasing a short video on their website. Additionally, a statement on Patagonia’s website reads, “...he’s rejected efforts to transfer Montana’s lands to private interests, created the Office of Outdoor Recreation, and expanded opportunities for conservation and recreation.” 

Bullock recently sued the Trump administration because of acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) William Pendley Perry. The case revolved around the role Pendley held at the Department of the Interior. A district court judge from Montana ruled that Pendley served in his role unlawfully for 424 days without Senate confirmation. This was a win for public land advocates. Pendley previously worked for Mountain States Legal Foundation, an anti-public land interest group, and has called climate change “junk science.” Pendley has also made joking comments about killing endangered species. In his role as director, he worked to open up 95% of Montana’s public lands to oil and gas development.

The documentary “Public Trust” highlights the fight, both past and present, over public lands usage throughout the American West. This fight has been raging since Yellowstone was established as a national park in 1872 and has only accelerated under the Trump Administration's push to privatize public land or transfer it to the states.

You can watch “Public Trust” at https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/.

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