Summit Daily editorial: Trump and Zinke declare war on public land preservation
June 16, 2017
Camping season is upon us. It's officially that time of year when families flow into Summit County and other parts of Colorado to soak in the rugged beauty of the Rockies. And with daily media salvos on mean health-care plans, Russian probes and violent attacks, it's not a bad time to get off the grid.
But even in the fresh air of our campsites we are reminded of a paradigm shift now taking place at the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, among other agencies.
Recent government actions to protect sacred and culturally significant landscapes under the Antiquities Act are now being described by President Donald Trump as obstacles to "economic growth." This spring, Trump called President Barack Obama's designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah an "egregious abuse of power."
If protecting a treasure trove of archeological sites and aesthetic beauty is now seen as an abuse of power — and firing people who refuse to pledge loyalty to men over laws is somehow not — then we've lost all understanding of our deepest values.
In April, Trump signed an executive order calling for a review of more than two-dozen national monuments, including one in Colorado. In the order, Trump said national monument designations "create barriers to achieving energy independence … and otherwise curtail economic growth."
Let's translate that: Trump is suggesting that economic growth only applies to an unfettered oil and gas industry — never tourism and recreation.
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Colorado and Utah both know well that the preservation of wilderness can bolster local economies, not depress them. Utah is learning that the hard way. Outdoor Retailer is moving its $45 million in economic impact from Salt Lake City to Colorado because of Utah lawmakers' hard-line stance against Bears Ears.
Rachel Carson, the crusading journalist who wrote "Silent Spring," a founding document of the modern environmentalist movement, once warned of an antipathy toward the natural world:
"Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature … but man is a part of nature, and this war against nature is inevitably a war against himself."
At the president's behest, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now the general in charge carrying out this war on the outdoors. In addition to the national monuments review — which so far has led Zinke to recommend shrinking Bears Ears — the secretary is also tasked with further privatizing (read: commercializing) the operation of our National Parks campgrounds.
"As the secretary, I don't want to be in the business of running campgrounds," Zinke said recently. "We are going to have more public-private partnerships soon. I think that's where the industry should be going."
Did he speak out of turn or does he really think of his department as an industry?
His statements are disturbing, but perhaps we're too hard on Secretary Zinke. After all, Trump's proposed budget calls for massive cuts to the Interior Department. The National Park Service, which already has a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion, could see a 13 percent drop in funding. In addition, more than 1,200 jobs could be on the chopping block. Zinke will have to find some way to overcome those handicaps.
In the meantime, we must call for our congressmen — the ones who ultimately will pass a budget and make decisions on national monuments — to halt the Trump administration's attacks against the preservation of our most wild and pristine places.
The Summit Daily editorial board consists of editor Ben Trollinger, publisher Meg Boyer, a reporter and three citizen members.