De­part­ment of the In­te­rior to Give Away Pro­tected Pub­lic Lands

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In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke proved that he is fully in lock­step with both Congress and Pres­i­dent Trump, as he plans for for­mal re­lease of even more pub­lic lands for the ben­e­fit of cor­po­ra­tions.

It is yet an­other move by Pres­i­dent Trump and his pup­pets to prove they are bet­ter than for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, and that they con­tinue in their re­lent­less quest to help Amer­ica’s rich be­come even richer.

Back in April, in one of the qui­eter moves by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, twenty-seven mon­u­ments were put un­der re­view. Ac­cord­ing to Trump, those re­gions which had been set aside for pro­tec­tion by Obama were just one “mas­sive fed­eral land grab”. In typ­i­cal Trump as well as Repub­li­can fash­ion, how­ever, the so­lu­tion is to re­place that with yet an­other “mas­sive fed­eral land grab”. This time, in­stead of it be­ing for the pub­lic, the new “mas­sive fed­eral land grab” will pri­mar­ily be for the ben­e­fit of the oil in­dus­try.

Zinke’s rec­om­men­da­tions, which have mostly not been re­leased to the pub­lic, were an­nounced with the state­ment that he had no in­ten­tion of elim­i­nat­ing any past mon­u­ments, spe­cific wilder­ness or ocean ar­eas from the list. There would be some ad­just­ments of po­ten­tial bound­aries of the pro­tected ar­eas, as well as in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the pos­si­bil­ity of al­low­ing drilling, min­ing, or other in­dus­tries on the pro­tected lands.

The only area Zinke has said so far would see changes is the Bear’s Ears mon­u­ment in Utah. He had pre­vi­ously said pub­licly that it would be re­duced in size. That mon­u­ment was set aside on 2,100 square miles on sa­cred tribal land. The tribal coali­tion that fought to get it ap­proved is go­ing to go to bat­tle if the mon­u­ment space or rules for its use are changed in any way.

Rep­re­sent­ing the other side of this case is Utah Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mike Noel, who feels the roll­back of bound­aries and broad­en­ing of use of the cur­rently-pro­tected lands is war­ranted. He even of­fered as a good com­pro­mise that maybe tourism on the lands could it­self be pro­tected, but at the same time al­low for all those things peo­ple had been do­ing for gen­er­a­tions like log­ging, live­stock graz­ing and oil and gas drilling.

That sort of de­scrip­tion it­self shows lit­tle re­spect for the Na­tive Amer­i­cans' orig­i­nal plea to pro­tect the lands as sa­cred. How lands can be treated as sa­cred when the gov­ern­ment might al­low them to be ripped up, chewed on, and chopped down, all in the name of Amer­i­can com­merce, is hard to fathom.

Noel did not stop there, how­ever, stat­ing that, in a re­cent pub­lic state­ment, “The eco-tourists ba­si­cally say, ‘Throw out the rubes and the lo­cals and get rid of the pub­lic lands for any re­new­able re­source such as tim­ber har­vest­ing and even some min­eral pro­duc­tion’.” He went on to call that “a very self­ish at­ti­tude”.

Ap­par­ently, Noel does not quite ‘get’ what it means for lands to be des­ig­nated as pro­tected or con­sid­ered sa­cred to the tribes. But then nei­ther does Don­ald Trump or In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Zinke, based on their state­ments on th­ese mat­ters.

Zinke, a for­mer Mon­tana con­gress­man, tried to back up his vow to pro­tect the lands – more or less – by stat­ing he wants to pro­tect tribal in­ter­ests. Then again, he also wants pub­lic ac­cess for things like hunt­ing, fish­ing or graz­ing. He also launched this study of what bound­aries to cut and use rights to change, based on a be­lief by the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch that the 1906 An­tiq­ui­ties Act which made them pos­si­ble had been abused by Pres­i­dents. That abuse al­legedly has overly re­stricted their use for min­ing, tim­ber-cut­ting and fos­sil fuel ex­plo­ration.

Pres­i­dent Trump has been far clearer about this, vow­ing to open many of th­ese pub­lic lands to cor­po­rate use for a va­ri­ety of pur­poses.

What is un­der re­view in­clude lo­ca­tions such as the Cas­cade Sikiyou, a 156-square-mile lo­ca­tion where three moun­tain ranges come to­gether in Ore­gon; the Katahdin Val­ley Woods and Wa­ters of for­est in north­ern Maine, en­com­pass­ing 136 square miles; and the Grand Stair­case-es­calante mon­u­ment in the Utah desert, a lo­ca­tion with mag­nif­i­cent canyons, nat­u­ral arches and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites. Marine mon­u­ments cov­er­ing over 340,000 square miles of pro­tected area are also up for dis­cus­sion as part of Zinke’s cur­rent re­view.

Zinke has not made all an­nounce­ments pub­licly on th­ese items yet, but did say pre­vi­ously that no changes would be made at 6 of the 27 mon­u­ments un­der dis­cus­sion, in Idaho, Ari­zona, Wash­ing­ton and Cal­i­for­nia.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists re­acted quickly, sound­ing an alarm for what many feel is just the be­gin­ning of a ma­jor re­align­ment of pri­or­i­ties for pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can’s lands from dam­age and loot­ing by cor­po­ra­tions. The groups also claim that the law may have al­lowed Pres­i­dents to des­ig­nate the lands and that in chang­ing pro­tec­tions only the U.S. Congress has the power to change ei­ther their bound­aries or their use.

Con­ser­va­tive le­gal ex­perts say the law fa­vors the cur­rent White House and Cabi­net po­si­tion on the is­sue, which is that the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch has com­plete say in re­al­lo­cat­ing the use and bound­aries for all th­ese mon­u­ments.

An­nounce­ments are ex­pected soon re­gard­ing which of Zinke’s rec­om­men­da­tions may come to pass as the new ‘law of the land’ un­der Pres­i­dent Trump. All that is cur­rently clear is that Bear’s Ears Mon­u­ment is go­ing to see some changes, and that other for­mer pro­tected lands are also go­ing to see some ma­jor changes. It is a dif­fi­cult new era where cor­po­rate will is clearly in power, when it comes to pro­tec­tion of our nat­u­ral re­sources.

As in other sit­u­a­tions re­gard­ing Trump’s edicts, now is the time for ci­ti­zens to make their voices heard on th­ese mat­ters, and help back those who will fight to pro­tect not just th­ese lands – but oth­ers, still un­named, but likely to be carved out by Trump and Zinke in the fu­ture.

Some counter-ac­tion is clearly needed now to stop all this. With­out that, the Amer­i­can pub­lic might just wake up one morn­ing find­ing that the only pub­lic land left stand­ing has the carved face of Don­ald Trump star­ing down at us from in­side.

Photo by Gage Skid­more,

Photo by thep­iper351,

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