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Trump Is Vandalizing Our Wild Heritage
By BRUCE BABBITT
DEC. 1, 2017

A reservoir in Blanding, Utah, just outside Bears Ears National Monument. Credit KC McGinnis for The New York Times
Americas wild places survive by the grace of a human promise. For more than 150 years, it has been an article of collective faith and national pride that once we protect a wild place, it is to be safeguarded for all time.

But in the coming days, President Trump will try to shatter that promise.

The president is expected to travel to Utah on Monday to announce that he is repealing protections for as many as two million acres of public land in the American West, an area more than six times the size of Grand Teton National Park, including vast portions of two national monuments in the state, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Mr. Trumps plans add up to the largest elimination of protected areas in American history. He is a vandal in our midst, coming in person to lay waste to the land. This theft of our heritage should awaken us to the damage being piled up across our public lands under this administration.

If he succeeds, tens of thousands of Native American sacred sites in southern Utah will be at renewed risk of looting. Red rock canyon lands will face the prospect of being stripped for coal and drilled for oil and gas. And the wild places where we hike and hunt and find solitude may not be there for future generations to do the same.

Thankfully, President Trump alone does not have the power to overturn Americas conservation laws and traditions. Congress granted presidents the authority to create national monuments, but not to eliminate them, reduce their size or sell them out to private interests. If the president attempts a unilateral attack on Americas national monuments, the courts can and should step in to restore the rule of law.

His interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has overturned a ban on mining on 10 million acres of wildlife habitat in the West and, against the wishes of Republican and Democratic governors there, is undermining a regionally developed plan to conserve the sagebrush steppe ecosystem. Mr. Zinkes action will threaten habitat that protects 350 wildlife species and push at least one bird, the greater sage-grouse, closer to the brink of extinction.

His commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, has completed a secret review of national marine sanctuaries and national marine monuments to determine which protected ocean areas should be thrown open for offshore drilling and industrial-scale commercial fishing. On the chopping block: protections for coral reefs and atolls in the Pacific, seamounts and canyons in the Atlantic, and feeding grounds for whales and sharks off California.

In Congress, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, has added an environmental rider to the Republican tax plan that would require the government to lease part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The refuges coastal plain, which has the largest concentration of land-based polar bear dens in the United States and is a calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd, would be forever lost to an industrial oil field.

The architects of these attacks are aiming to help private companies make a quick buck off unspoiled lands and waters. But, more fundamentally, they are seeking to undercut the idea of permanence that is the foundation for the protection of all Americas wildlife refuges, national monuments, parks and protected areas.

Mr. Trumps foray into the West to fan the flames of his war against the environment could mark a turning point, however. Imagine that the president, as he peers down from Air Force One at the magnificent landscapes spreading out below, could hear and heed the words of Theodore Roosevelt resonating from his 1903 visit to the Grand Canyon:

Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it; not a bit. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children and your childrens children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.

We must rise up, speak out and, in the spirit of Roosevelt, demand an end to this desecration of our national heritage.

Bruce Babbitt was the secretary of interior from 1993 to 2001 and the Democratic governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/opinion/trump-national-monuments-bears-ears.html


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