The beauty of America’s conservation movement is that our majestic, unspoiled public lands belong to all of us, not to whichever local officials are most willing to cut deals with miners, ranchers and loggers.
This week, President Donald Trump showed his disdain for that notion by signing executive orders to chop away at the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante natural areas in Utah. The next day, his rapacious Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, recommended shrinking two more natural areas and permitting more grazing, hunting, logging and mining in six others. It further illustrates Trump’s disregard for the nation and the planet.
We can only hope the federal courts block this indefensible assault.
Trump offers no persuasive, overarching argument that despoiling areas long marked for conservation would benefit us. Instead, he attacks the very foundation of conservation as eloquently laid out by President Theodore Roosevelt. Once we designate a cherished natural area for protection, it should stay protected as part of our national heritage.
Instead, Trump has ordered that 85 percent of Bears Ears be eliminated, removing by executive orders more land from protection than ever before in American history. Thousands of Native American sacred sites in Utah will be in peril.
As America’s population grows, the need for vast, open, unsullied spaces where we can momentarily escape the hubbub of modern life grows with it. The areas also are home to unique ecosystems. At the same time, our economy relies less and less on felling timber and extracting minerals and fossil fuels from the land.
Last year, researchers reported that humans had destroyed a 10th of Earth’s remaining wilderness areas in the previous 25 years and that none might remain within a century. Trump seems eager to hurry that destruction along. He gives no thought to future generations.
Whether Trump’s actions will hold up in court is unclear. The 1906 Antiquities Act does not provide for presidents to overrule decisions by their predecessors. But if courts give way before Trump, only Congress could prevent the damage.
Trump’s attack on public lands, unsupported by research or public input, is a break with precedent. When the federal government created the Pullman National Monument in Chicago in 2015, it sought input from everyone from South Side community groups to City Hall to Metra to ensure the project was done properly.
Trump listens only to his inner circle, if that. We should all shout, all the same.
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