This week marks the two year anniversary of the Trump administration’s decision to decimate two national monuments located in Utah.
With the stroke of a pen, the president removed protections on 85% of the Bears Ears National Monument and 50% of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The president’s action was the single largest reduction of protected public lands in the history of the United States.
It put more than 2 million acres of land at risk for oil, gas and uranium development. It put more than 100,000 cultural and archeological treasures at risk from industrial development, off-road traffic and looting. It put habitat safeguards for elk, desert bighorn sheep and black bear aside. It shredded an historic management agreement among five tribal nations.
But that was just the beginning.
Since then, the assault on public lands has continued in less dramatic, but no less damaging ways. Just weeks after the slashing of Bears Ears, President Trump signed a tax law that opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. It is one of the wildest corners of our country. Such development would disrupt important migration corridors used for thousands of years, put clean water at risk and threaten caribou, polar bears and hundreds of bird species.
Then came the upending of the largest conservation plan in history. Back in 2015, the federal government and Republican and Democratic governors alike had signed off on plans to conserve millions of acres of sage grouse habitat while also allowing for responsible development across the West. It was bold, hard work, forged on handshakes and common ground. It was undone at the request of oil and gas industry lobbyists.
The list of attacks goes on and is long: from breakneck-paced auctioning off of lands across tens of millions of acres for oil and gas leasing, to plans to punch logging roads into 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, to attempts to cut the public out of having a say over our public lands.
The administration has even installed a man who has consistently championed the selling off our public lands to be in charge of those very lands. William Perry Pendley is acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, which manages 245 million acres on behalf of the American people. As a friend of mine put it, it’s a bit like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department.
It shouldn’t be this way. America’s public lands are open to each and every one of us. They are the ultimate emblem of freedom, defining our spirit. They also fuel an $800 billion outdoor recreation economy.
At the turn of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt, the president who first created national monuments and who conserved more land than any other, warned us about “short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness would, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things.”
He didn’t permit them. We shouldn’t either.
Tracy Stone-Manning is the associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation.