By Tim Manns
On April 26th, President Trump ordered a review of all national monuments over 100,000 acres designated since 1996; i.e. by Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton. He referred to these acts of limiting development on national public lands “a massive federal land grab,” odd to say about places all U.S. citizens have long collectively owned. Of the 27 monuments under review, only Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument had been private property, and it was donated to the people of the United States, not grabbed.
It has long bothered, even enraged, certain people that they or local office-holders lack authority over these lands. More often than not, there’s a profit motive. Decades ago, a vigorous effort to seize land from national public ownership was dubbed the “Sagebrush Rebellion” due to its strength in such states as Nevada and Utah. This movement never went away. Last year’s Malheur occupation thrust it back into the limelight. Then last November’s election reignited what could become a true land grab. The latest national move in this direction is the attempt to undo monument designations, something unseen since the Antiquities Act gave presidents designation authority in 1906. Secretary of Interior Zinke is accepting public comment on Trump’s mandated review of monument designations until July 10. To comment online, go to http://www.regulations.gov and enter “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar, or send a letter to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. The Utah delegation being especially hot about Bears Ears National Monument, designated after lengthy consultation with tribes to whom the area is culturally and spiritually significant, was given a comment period of, yes, 15 days, which ended in May. Feeling empowered? Since 1906, only two presidents have not created national monuments, which restrict development and resource extraction on our public lands with outstanding scientific or cultural values. Thank the Antiquities Act for the initial protection of Grand Canyon, Zion, and many other beloved North American places.
The Sagebrush Rebellion attitude lives in Skagit County too in our county commissioners’ dalliance with the American Lands Council (ALC) and the American Stewards of Liberty (ASL). The former’s stated mission is to transfer nationally owned public land to the states. Its organizational members are largely counties in Utah and Nevada with others scattered around the West. One Skagit commissioner proposed doubling our county’s membership to $5,000 per year, but citizens spoke out, and the membership ended. Where such land transfers happen, the result is often the states selling the land for revenue, the public losing access, and any natural resources being converted to private cash. Privatization appears the real goal of the ALC and similar organizations. In short, a land grab. There’s much flag waving and talk of liberty, but following the money shows the true intent.
On April 24th, our county commissioners gave someone closely affiliated with ALC a public forum to deliver a long, fear-mongering presentation against restoring grizzlies to the North Cascades at even the proposed very low density. The same evening, the commissioners and their cohorts from other counties took advice from the executive director of another right-wing group, the “American Stewards of Liberty,” on ways to block implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on 6 million publicly owned acres of the North Cascades Ecosystem. They lambasted employees of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service doing their duty under the ESA, which is law. Ours is still a nation of laws. The commissioners have signed a contract to pay the “American Stewards” up to $5,000 of our tax money for advice.
Among the great benefits all Americans share are idealistic laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the abundance of public land. Attempts to undo such benefits threaten so much that Audubon members value. Please support continued protection of public lands: national monuments, national parks, national forests, fish and wildlife refuges, wilderness areas. These are key habitat for America’s diverse wildlife. Resist any weakening of the ESA. For human action or neglect to cause extinction of species is not simply regrettable; it is immoral. We have a responsibility to all who come after us to not let the politics of the moment do literally irreparable harm. My friends, there is a world to save and we are the ones to save it.