By David Lien
During President Trump’s first year in office he promised to be a conservation president along the lines of America’s greatest hunter-conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt. Instead he — along with his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke — threw sportsmen under the bus by leading an unprecedented attack on our nation’s public-lands estate.
For starters, they removed national monument protection from 2 million acres of protected public hunting lands in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. The Washington Post reported (in “The President Stole Your Land,” 12/5/17) that this is “the largest reduction of public-lands protection in U.S. history.” Similarly, The Hill reports (in “Trump slashed Utah land protections,” 12/4/17) that it’s “the largest-ever rollback of protected areas in history.”
Trump and Secretary Zinke did this despite that fact that during Zinke’s monuments review the Interior Department received roughly 3 million public comments, and 99 percent of them supported keeping national monument protections in place. Leasing for oil and gas drilling as well as uranium and coal mining could begin in as little as 60 days, according to proclamation language.
Talk of shrinking national monuments strikes home across the border in Colorado, as explained by Grand Junction City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein. Visitation at Colorado National Monument “keeps going up year after year,” Boeschenstein said. Instead of shrinking national monuments, there should be talk of expanding them, he added. Unfortunately, Trump’s national monument “review” was a sham from the start with a predetermined outcome: shutting the public out of public lands and serving corporate special interests.
“America’s conservation legacy defines us and is the envy of the world,” said Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) President and CEO Land Tawney. “Today is a dark day for that legacy. Roosevelt is shaking his fists!”
“The decision today should be deeply alarming to sportsmen and women. Actions that erode protections for any national monument jeopardize others across the nation. Will that be next?” added Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited president/CEO.
Unfortunately, we’ve already found out “what’s next.” A Trump administration decision to reopen public lands near the 1.1-million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to industrial sulfide mining drew strong criticism from sportsmen. “The fact that the Interior Department lacked the courage even to issue a press release on this decision shows that they know it’s the wrong choice,” said Erik Packard, a Minnesota BHA board member and founder of Veterans for the Boundary Waters. “They are too cowardly to face the people who do not want to risk damaging the Boundary Waters because they know it’s wrong.”
The Trump administration also pushed Congress to pass legislation opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas drilling. ANWR’s 1.5-million-acre coastal plain, known as the “1002 area,” will now be sacrificed to oil companies. In the not-so-distant past, Republican President Ronald Reagan worked with a Democratic majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate to pass and sign 43 bills yielding 10.6 million acres of wilderness areas in 31 states.
What has President Trump done? Removed protections from (or put at risk) some 4.6 million acres of public lands, and he’s just getting started. President Reagan (like Republican President Theodore Roosevelt before him) put our responsibility for public lands in the proper perspective when he said, “This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
David Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”