A Call to Action
Nature bats last. Those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s vividly recall this rallying cry. And over the past decades, many of us committed to sound conservation practices and expanding our outdoor recreation opportunities continuously went to bat for nature. We struck out a few times, put some points on the board and occasionally knocked one out of the park. Overall our record through Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama was mixed. During the Nixon years and the last few innings of Obama we were rallying. But now there’s a new pitcher on the White House mound. He’s unorthodox—plays by his own rules, and has already thrown some curve balls. How will we play against him?
Many of us in the conservation and outdoor recreation communities are now bracing for an all-out assault on our public lands. Is it warranted or just a fear of party politics? While our newly elected commander-in-chief didn’t exactly run on an anti-public lands platform (anti EPA and environmental rules, yes, but not a privatize-the-parks platform), many of his supporters and allies take kind to the notion of divesting the Federal government of its public holdings (i.e. public lands). And Trump’s ascendancy to the White House has empowered far right radical anti-environmentalists to a degree not seen since Reagan’s election win energized the Sagebrush Rebellion.
Radicals, such as acolytes of the Bundy clan (the freeloaders that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016) to brazen, outspoken anti-public lands members of Congress (like the very powerful Rob Bishop of Utah who serves as the current Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources) have all been empowered by Trump’s election. These recently vindicated factions are where the real danger lies, where the real threats are going to be lobbed from. If there is anything we have learned so far about how Trump will govern, it is that he has every intention to make good on his campaign promises and he doesn’t have the slightest clue as to how our government works; Trump’s directives and governance will come from those below him and that has potential to swing wildly in both directions depending on who has sway.
Many of us who came of age hiking with external frame packs and leather hiking boots with Vibram soles recall the anti-environmental tone of the Reagan years and can take solace in the following: our system of checks and balances and an active citizenry kept the anti-environment land marauders from doing far greater damage than they craved. Granted, Reagan had a Democratic Congress to keep him in check—and there were still plenty of Rockefeller Green Republicans left over from the Nixon years—but ultimately it was public pressure that saved the Columbia River Gorge, greatly expanded the federal wilderness system, and led to the early dismissals of anti-environment Interior Secretary James Watt and EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch (the mother of current SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch). And the Reagan years proved to be a boon to the environmental movement as most organizations saw their memberships skyrocket.
We shall overcome again, but it might be a little more difficult and we may have to be prepared to accept some collateral damage in the process. Right now Republicans control both chambers of Congress and there are very few Green elephants remaining in the GOP trough. Radical anti-environment, anti-public lands, anti-regulations meant to protect our environment and health, and carte-blanche pro-fossil fuels exploiters are frothing at the mouth. And they need to strike hard and fast with a populace dismayed, apathetic, and resigned if they are to succeed.
The good news; many of us are ready to take them on and we hope to grow our ranks to stop any misguided, anti-environment assaults on our public lands. Americans of all backgrounds and political persuasions overwhelmingly believe in protecting, expanding and the careful treatment our public lands—especially our national parks, which esteemed environmentalist and historian Wallace Stegner declared the best idea we ever had.
When Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz recently introduced a bill in Congress to sell off more than 3 million acres of our public lands, it was immediately met with a barrage of opposition. And not only from liberal-leaning urban dwellers, but conservative-leaning sportsmen and women too. The pushback was so great that the bewildered congressman issued a mea culpa and quickly withdrew his fetid piece of legislation.
In Wyoming, one of the most conservative states in the nation—a state that voted 70% for Trump—the movement to transfer federal lands to the states was also met with overwhelming opposition. The move to instill a lands transfer amendment in the state’s constitution was killed by the Republican State Senate President. Wyoming sportsmen and women feared if such a move was to become law, they would eventually lose access to millions of acres of public lands through use changes and privatization.
Lessons learned? Our representatives work for us and need to represent OUR values. Keep the pressure on them. If we can be successful blocking terrible anti-public lands legislation in some of our most conservative states, we can stop the president and his administration from similar moves. And we have another weapon of resistance in our environmental arsenal—the power of the purse.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generated nearly $650 billion (that’s billion) in consumer spending last year and was directly responsible for more than 6 million jobs. Clearly our public lands have more value than just being commodity warehouses. If our elected leaders won’t listen to our objections over their ill-devised public lands pieces of legislation, they’ll listen when we take our money elsewhere. This is exactly what just happened in Salt Lake City, where the Outdoor Retailer Show—the world’s largest trade exhibition has after 20 years decided to look elsewhere. Why? Many of the show’s participants have had it with Utah’s elected official’s blatant hostility towards public lands. The icing on the cake was the push by several of the state’s congressmen, senators and governor to undue President’s Obama’s Bear’s Ears National Monument. These anti-environmental solons not only want to undo the Bear’s Ears protected status, but to also do away with the Antiquities Act (an act established by Republican president Theodore Roosevelt).
The Republican Party under Roosevelt stood for strong conservation measures. What happened 100 years later? If there is any silver-lining in the current lineup of power brokers—it may be in Ryan Zinke, the president’s Department of Interior Secretary. A former congressman from Montana, Zinke refers to himself as a Roosevelt Republican. He even went as far as to ride a horse through DC on the day of his cabinet confirmation—an act Teddy was fond of participating in.
To be clear, Zinke will increase resource extraction on our public lands. But let’s not forget that oil production and fracking peaked under Obama’s watch. Conversely, Obama’s Interior secretaries were also stalwarts for protecting large chunks of our public domain. Zinke has stated continuously that he opposes the transfer or sale of our federal lands to the states and the movement to privatize our public lands. And his boss? Trump has also said numerous times that he opposes transferring or selling off any of our 507 million acres (nearly 20% of the country’s land) of public lands. In one interview he was quoted as saying, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great.”
So while Trump tries to eviscerate via budget cuts the EPA, NOAA, and other government agencies dedicated to protecting our environment, he has gone a little easier on our parks and public lands with a 12% budget cut to Interior. Hardly a budget to keep our lands great. Our job is to hold him accountable to that mantra and to go one step farther. If he truly wants to Make America Great Again, he can begin with our greatest idea ever—by fully funding our national park service, directing some of his intended grand infrastructure spending to our parks, expanding our parks, and protecting the air, water, and wildlife within them. We have to do everything we legally can to make sure Trump and the radical Republicans don’t take a bat to our lands.
Award winning guidebook author and outdoors writer. Romano lives with his wife, son, and cat in Skagit County Washington close to the North Cascades National Park.