Fight or Flight Tour at the Utah Tar Sands Mine: An Open Letter to Animal Rights Activists

photo-7On August 7th, the Fight or Flight Tour traveled up through the rocky plateaus of eastern Utah to spend some time with Utah Tar Sands Resistance, the group actively opposing the first tar sands mine in the United States. Tar sands extraction is among the most destructive resource extraction projects in the world, digging up the earth to extract oily sands that are millions of years premature of becoming oil, to be transported by truck or pipeline to special refinement facilities that release greenhouse gases at exponentially higher rates than traditional oil refineries. These are the occupied lands of the Ute people, and the mining site itself straddles the Uintah and Ouray reservations and poses threats to these watersheds. Though the tar sands mine in Alberta, Canada, has been wreaking havoc on the planet for years—and opposition to the project and subsequent pipelines has been a focus of the environmental movement recently—this Utah mine, owned by Canadian company US Oil Sands, is the first to break ground in the United States for extraction of this toxic substance.

Earlier this month, after the 2014 Utah Tar Sands Action Camp, activists locked down to equipment, halting construction on site for the entire day, and 21 activists were subsequently arrested. They are awaiting trial, and can use your support. Find out more, and stay up-to-date with the campaign, at

oil sands

The Utah Tar Sands Resistance camp is ongoing, and is prepared to defend the land from extraction for the long-haul. The Fight or Flight Tour is grateful for having been welcomed into their camp, for the stories they shared, and for their defense of the land from the darkest, dirtiest efforts of the capitalist system.

On a more personal note, over the last year I’ve had the chance to visit the tar sands mine site in Utah’s PR Springs twice, and the visits have helped to reshape how I think about what it means to be an activist working to help animals. These visits have also stirred a desire to encourage other animal rights activists to understand why we must care about what is happening in Utah, as well as other sites of earth destruction.

My first visit was last summer while doing a clerkship with the Civil Liberties Defense Center. I had the opportunity to assist with legal trainings at the Utah Tar Sands Action Camp and then act as legal observer during a lockdown action at the tar sands mine site in PR Springs. On the day of the action, we woke up and set out to the tar sands site in the darkness of the early morning, and the sun rose with us as we climbed the hills into PR Springs. My thoughts were first about making sure I was prepared to legal observe, but as the morning light revealed rolling canyons that met the sky at the horizon, my thoughts on legal observing shifted from making sure I was prepared with my hat and clipboard to being a part of a movement defending the life of this place from the devastation of tar sands mining.

I’ve been involved in animal rights activism for several years. I’ve passed out thousands of leaflets promoting veganism, tabled at hundreds of events for animal rights groups, organized many protests and other events… and somewhere along the way tended to stop thinking very much about how I found my love for animals as a child, a child who also loved the trees, rivers, stars, and clouds. Being out at the tar sands mine brought that back to me. On the plateaus of Utah where the mine is being prepared, I have seen antelope, deer, chipmunk, field mice and prairie dogs. And there are countless others that make the rocks of the canyons bristle with life, including bear, ground squirrels, vultures and hawks. As I first stood at the top of the mine site, looking out into the distance at the canyons and then close up at the earth that had been stripped for the tar sands, I saw that the relationship between defending the wild and fighting for animal liberation is endlessly intertwined—and that animal rights activists must stop unwinding the two. Tar sands mining destroys the animals along with the land. The mining pollutes the water on which animals rely, contributes to global warming that is destroying animals’ habitats around the world, and rips up the ground—and the animals, their food, and their shelter along with it—only to replace it with toxic pools of tar to be burned for more pollution, and to fuel more destruction.


Given the impact that being at the tar sands mine site had on me the first time—connecting me back with my roots as a lover and defender of animal life—I was excited to return to the tar sands mine site as a part of the Fight or Flight Tour. In doing this tour, one of our goals is to not only to bridge the gap between the animal rights and environmental movements, but to show that  the gap shouldn’t exist in the first place. I have had animal rights activists ask me why they should care about the tar sands mining, unable to see the connection between the impact of resource extraction and an animal rights movement that’s come to be largely defined by vegan consumerism, and I want every animal rights activist who questions why they should care about a piece of the earth being torn apart to stand on the edge of a tar sands mine, or a clearcut forest, and to think about what has been lost. On one side of these lines birds sing and critters scurry between trees; on the other side is silence and devastation.

Although I know that every animal rights activist will not stand over the tar sands mine at PR Springs, our visit as a part of the Fight or Flight Tour—done largely in furtherance of an animal liberation campaign—can hopefully push other animal rights activists to consider what kind of fight they are engaged in for the animals. An animal rights movement that praises giant corporations for offering vegan items but does not actively support the protection of wild nature and animal habitats is effectively perpetuating the corporate greed that leads to the devastation of the earth and ignoring a chance to save animals and the wilderness they deserve.

Many amazing activists are currently working to save the animals and the land at PR Springs—and beyond. As animal rights activists, we need to stand in solidarity. Please start by visiting the website of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance and learn about their campaign; the impact the tar sands industry has on the environment, animals, and the indigenous people; and how we can all—and must all—be a part of the fight.

For the earth and its animals!


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