The environmental activist group Great Old Broads for Wilderness has started a new chapter in Montezuma County.
The national organization, based in Durango, has 36 chapters – mostly in the Western U.S. – that advocate for preserving wilderness qualities of public lands.
Montezuma Broads is the latest local foothold, joining chapters in La Plata County, Ridgway, Pagosa Springs and Moab.
Led by older women but open to anyone, the Broads are known for scrutinizing federal land policies and acting to protect public lands from the impacts of oil and gas development, roads, off-road motorized uses and grazing. Advocating for the protection of archaeological resources is also a cause, as well as regulating extractive industries to combat climate change. They frequently volunteer in the field and sometimes use irreverent humor to get their preservation message across, such as dressing up as cleaning ladies to pick up trash in Utah wilderness areas.
“I like the idea that they value older women, and they obviously have a sense of humor,” said Pat McClenny, broadband leader for Montezuma Broads.
“We’re learning about the issues and meeting with public land officials and local groups,” she said.
McClenny, along with co-leader Susan Treneer, said the goal of Montezuma Broads is to partner with other groups on projects and take a “noncombative approach.” They plan to participate in volunteer service work, such as noxious weed control, trash pickup, trail maintenance, fence mending and archaeological site stewardship.
“The archaeology in this area is amazing, and it’s important to have a Broad chapter specific to supporting Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center,” Treneer said.
They want to collaborate with San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, Southwest Colorado Canyon’s Alliance, San Juan Mountains Association and the Dolores River Boating Advocates.
“No one group can do it all, so we are finding our niche,” McClenny said. “I see us doing educational programs for the community.”
Great Old Broads was formed in 1989 to challenge Utah Sen. Orin Hatch’s assertion that roadless wilderness designations prevent the elderly from accessing public lands.
“There is a misconception that older people can’t do physical outdoor activities,” McClenny said. “A lot of us are capable, but we recognize not everyone can do the physical labor, so we offer other volunteer work as well.”
The La Plata Broads chapter has previously weighed in on local issues. The chapter is critical of ranching polices on Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, which allows for grazing if it doesn’t interfere with cultural resources.
In 2015, Great Old Broads joined a coalition of environmental groups to protest reissuing the monument’s Flodine and Yellow Jacket permits, citing outdated range studies and poor rangeland health.
Fearing litigation, monument managers agreed to not issue the permits until an updated range study could be conducted, which is ongoing.
Great Old Broads supported the BLM’s recently approved master lease plan for the Tres Rios District, which adds additional regulatory oversight for oil and gas development on some BLM lands in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
“With all of the archaeological resources, I think a closer look at oil and gas development under a more comprehensive public process like an MLP is a good idea,” Treneer said. “What is scary for a lot of people is having nothing but oil wells and tank farms like what is happening on BLM lands around Chaco” in New Mexico.
Great Old Broads are known for effective environmental campaigns but have faced some resistance in southeastern Utah.
Broads successfully advocated for the Recapture Wash near Blanding to be closed to motorized vehicles. Signs posted in the canyon in 2010 read: “Wanted dead or alive: Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Great Old Broads not allowed in San Juan County.”
In April, San Juan County, Utah, filed criminal charges against a former La Plata Broads staffer for allegedly trespassing on state trust lands in an incident in which her husband allegedly closed a gate to a water source for a local rancher’s livestock.
Montezuma Broads don’t foresee a confrontational style in their local conservation efforts.
“We want to form partnerships and build alliances with people who may have different opinions,” Treneer said.
“I feel like our country has gone too far with the confrontation stuff,” McClenny said, “and it is good for people to know we are not like that. We are members of the community and want to work with our neighbors. People here would rather talk with someone local than an outsider.”