Heritage Under Seige

If you think that public lands will be accessible forever, or that they are somehow protected from rapacious exploitation, think again. Presidential decree and ongoing legislation aim to open once-protected lands to plunder with disastrous consequences for wildlife, water, and antiquities.

I’m not fond of hyperbole, and tend to avoid dramatic environmental pronouncements. But today, “plunder” and “disastrous” are understatement. Here are a few examples of legislation on the table or in planning. (See High Country News for more info on many of these.)

Trump has reduced two extraordinary National Monuments, both Utah BLM lands, by more than half. In Bears Ears, this means roads, drilling, waste disposal and open-pit mining without regard to important Ute and other tribes heritage, including burial sites, ancient art, and important hunting and gathering sites. Trivial? Consider the uproar if we proposed putting a road through Wallowa County’s Prairie Creek (pioneer) cemetery, or proposed drilling for oil at the Arlington National cemetery. Destruction of cultural and ancestral sites, and traditional food resources is no less traumatic for native peoples than for us, and much less justifiable.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southeastern Utah protects critical paleontological sites. Or at least it did. Now reduced by more than half, sites that contain an extraordinary record of Cretaceous dinosaurs and ecosystems, including many new species, and including the ONLY fossil biological crusts, are now open to drilling and open pit coal mining. Yes the dinosaurs here enjoyed some lush forests. Their remains are entombed with or near coal beds. These are not very thick coal beds, but they ARE coal bed$. Profit and Plunder are insidious partners, especially for an administration and culture that cares little for science of any stripe.

Ah, but that’s in far, far away Utah. We are different, you might think.


In December, (fittingly, on December 7, Pearl Harbor’s anniversary) Senator Steve Daines, R-Montana, introduced a bill onto the U.S. Senate floor that would eliminate wilderness protection from 358,500 acres of Montana wilderness study areas (WSA). The bill would release all these acres of National Forest which now have wilderness-level protection to normal USFS multiple use management — roads, logging, grazing, mining, etc. There is considerable support for expanding the number of USFS WSA’s included in the bill and making it a national-level act.

First they came for the study areas. Wilderness, everywhere, could be next.

In the 1920s and 30’s there were boats on Mirror Lake just below Eagle Cap. The high county is only now recovering from over-grazing, mostly by sheep. (And trying to recover from over-trampling by humans today.) There are photos of men on motorcycles at Glacier Peak and Eagle Cap. The list goes on.

There is no guarantee that wilderness will remain wilderness. Or that ecosystems, and all they provide, are safe from greedy exploitation.

IF you think that legislation has protected wilderness, ecosystems, and heritage, think again.

On the Threats to Public Lands

Eagle Cap Morning-8x11XIf the pen is mightier than the sword, it’s time to write in defense public lands.

The Trump Administration draws fixated attention for its prejudicial policies and pronouncements on human rights, immigration, and the economy.

But its most disastrous actions are its irreversible damage to our national treasures — public resources and public lands– in pursuit of private profit. Offshore drilling. Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to mineral and energy exploitation. Denial of climate change and the consequent increased greenhouse gas emissions. Withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Shrinking protection for life-sustaining ecosystems and waters, and the invaluable cultural heritage of public lands.

Given the success of the Bundy’s assault on federal management of rapacious grazing, and the ultra-conservative Right’s intention of privatizing public lands, restricted public access to USFS, BLM, and other federal lands is probably somewhere on a back-room table. And placing Federal lands in private hands is probably right next to it. Look for those to emerge in the second Trump administration.

We are an increasingly urban society. Few who live in New York City or Los Angeles, or for that matter, Beaverton or Gresham, ever venture far from pavement. Open “vacant” spaces, can seem mildly threatening. Useless. Superfluous. In fact, a drain on public coffers.

We have no visible, vocal public lands champion in public office, either. No Stewart Udall. No Teddy Roosevelt. No-one who comes to mind. Environmental organizations seem to have lost their clout. Environmental advocacy lies tepidly on the national back burner.

While we dither over immigration policy, real disasters to ecosystems, and to the future of public lands, are ongoing, a creeping plague that eviscerates the American future.

So: Each week, this column will examine issues and search for ways to engage American’s once more with their Public lands. Stay tuned.