Lost amid all the hand-wringing about Russian interference in our electoral process, the tweet of the week and the myriad political machinations attending the current Congress and administration — all, granted, important or entertaining enough — is an issue of fundamental import to Grand County and communities across the West: what appears to be a looming all-out assault on public lands.
That may strike some as a tad melodramatic, but consider the facts on the ground already.
President Donald Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct a review of national monuments in the West that previous presidents established under the Antiquities Act. If Zinke’s approach to one of the most recent of those monuments is any indication, the term “review” is a misnomer.
Former President Barack Obama established Bears Ears National Monument in eastern Utah last year under the act after more than two years of meetings with state, local and tribal officials. And while it could scarcely be said that all parties were pleased about it, due process was followed.
In May, Zinke went on a fact-finding mission during which he spent a grand total of two hours with tribal officials and supporters of the designation and the better part of three days with opponents. After which, he declared (though the official “findings” are still pending) that the monument boundaries should be adjusted.
Shazam, what a surprise.
Mind you, it would be unprecedented, historically and legally, for the president to undo by executive fiat a monument designation duly made by a president under the Antiquities Act. And Bears Ears is just the tip of iceberg. The administration is going after Grand Staircase-Escalante, also in Utah, designated by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. One of the monuments on the “review” list, Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, was designated in 1924. Obviously, no national monuments are safe and, given that they are among the more-protected federal lands, it is reasonable to assume that lesser designations are threatened as well.
Never mind that — pick your poll — between 70 and 80 percent of people who live in the West favor continued federal control of these lands and also favor protecting considerable portions of them for the enjoyment of current and future generations. Additionally, the economic contributions of these lands, particularly those such as wilderness and national parks that enjoy enhanced protections, to economies such as Grand County’s are critically important.
A 2013 report by the National Wildlife Federation estimates outdoor recreation in the West leads to $646 billion in spending and supports more than 6 million jobs. In Grand County, it is fair to say that outdoor recreation and its related economies, including much of the second-home market, is the franchise.
Yet, as of this writing, Zinke is presiding over a proposed 13 percent cut in the Interior Department. The administration’s preliminary budget would cut the U.S. Forest Service’s parent agency, the Department of Agriculture, by 21 percent and the Forest Service’s already anemic maintenance budget by more than 70 percent.
Some even justify the notion of selling public lands to the private sector by citing congressional neglect of public lands and the resulting maintenance backlog. Need money? Sell the land, they say.
Fortunately, in order for these threats to materialize, Congress must approve them, which has yet to happen. There’s still time to let Colorado’s delegation know just how important you consider preservation of federal lands. It’s never been more important to forcefully convey to our lawmakers the value of preserving our federal lands and our way of life.