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Conservatives against conservation

Native News Online
Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, Utah.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Soon after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, I would often ask people if they could imagine Trump, a seemingly soulless creature of glass, steel and concrete, a New Yorker, visiting a U.S. national park and really enjoying it?

I mean, outside of his golf courses, have we really seen Trump in a natural setting? It’s just hard to imagine. He doesn’t seem to like nature. He is ill at ease when he is not near Trump Tower, a McDonald’s, Mar-a-Lago, or in some fancy form of transportation, his coal-black heart shriveling to a cinder as he tweets insults and governs by retribution and cruel whimsy.

Anarchists burn the word "Resist" onto the greens of a Trump golf course in Virginia. (MintPressNews.com)

And so with Trump’s order this week, with full backing by his bullying toady, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (a Montanan who has no plans to reduce federally-protected parks in his state because he is expected to run for governor of Montana at some future date),  the size of Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, Utah, was reduced. 

This designation was made approximately one year ago, during President Barack Obama’s final weeks in office, under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows the president to proclaim certain areas of public lands as national monuments. (For more on Zinke's villainous attacks on America's environmental heritage, read this Outside magazine profile).

Trump claims the same act allows him to rescind national monument designations, although it is unclear at this point. Regardless, environmentalists and average Americans alike – many of whom enjoy visiting America’s national parks and monuments, a legacy kicked off by Republican Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, allegedly Sec. Zinke's hero – are outraged at Trump’s decision. There was a time when Republicans and conservatives took conservation and the environment seriously. These days it appears to be a position of the past.

Outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia is taking a stand and plans to sue Trump over this decision, with Patagonia owner Yvon Chouinard posting a statement on Patagonia's homepage noting how the "president stole your land" and that this is "the largest elimination of public land in American history."

(Image via Patagonia)

Writing for The Globalist this week, Richard Phillips, in his hard-hitting piece “The Republican crime syndicate takes control,” he says that the GOP is hellbent on “raping, pillaging and plundering America” with their agenda being to “pay off” Republican donors in the “who use their wealth and influence to commit rape against the American landscape.” So, when the politicians claim they are doing this for the average American worker struggling to put food on the table, forget it. This is a you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours type of scenario. And it will go beyond public lands, Phillips reminds us.

Writes Phillips: "To make matters worse, the U.S. Department of the Interior has been hard at work to sell off public lands, again to Republican donors. It tries to shrink national parks in order to give donors important mining and woodland franchises ... and not content to destroy the tax code, health care, the environment and public lands, Republicans want to end a large number of key regulatory measures. They want, for example, to do away with the concept of “net neutrality” and in so doing turn the Internet over to the highest bidders, often Republican donors."

How much is Bears Ears being scaled back? About 85 percent, or shaving off approximately 1.3 million acres, so that area could be potentially developed and abused. There has already been a lot of theft and destruction of artifacts in this area, as local Native tribes have noted. They long hoped the U.S. government would protect their heritage - and that of all Americans.

Bears Ears National Monument, along with Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (in Garfield and Kane counties in Utah) established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, are reportedly only first on a list of 27 monuments now under review, according to The Washington Post. Grand Staircase-Escalante would be reduced by nearly 50 percent.

Others being eyed for reduction by Trump and Zinke include: Nevada’s Gold Butte, Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean; both Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean; New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte, and Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters.

But it's still early in Trump's term. No doubt more greedheads and land-rapers are salivating at the thought of exploiting other monuments and parks that Trump could give two shits about.

I suggest readers check out one of my favorite political films, the John Sayles-directed Silver City, where a rapacious and shrewd developer named Wes Benteen (Kris Kristofferson) tells a dimbulb Republican Colorado gubernatorial candidate (Chris Cooper) that he plans to support his candidacy because he wants a toxic "brownfield" (from mining operations in the area) to be open to development, along with pristine and public lands in the state.

(Newmarket Films)

Ironically, in light of the Republican-controlled Utah politicos supporting Trump's anti-environment action, the state of Colorado is looking to lure an annual outdoor-oriented convention to their state - one that has been operating in Utah for 20 years. The message is that Colorado takes their public lands seriously, compared to their neighbors to the west.

CONSERVATIVES VS. THE ENVIRONMENT

While primarily white Republican males with selfish interests fought against the Bears Ears designation – Trump, Zinke, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (who called the designations a "massive land grab"), among others. Hatch flew to Salt Lake City on Monday with Trump aboard Air Force One.

A nonprofit group, Public Lands Solutions, had suggested back in April that San Juan County residents – who live in Utah’s poorest county - who opposed Bears Ears’ designation as a national monument should embrace “adventure tourism” and that county leaders and Native American tribes “should use the monument to work on economic development scenarios that include targeted marketing of prime landmarks within the monument, like Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge and Moqui Canyon.

As the Salt Lake Tribune reported at that time, the PLS report also said: “Through the establishment of a well-designed management plan, Native American tribes and local businesses can bolster economic vitality in the region by using the monument to drive interest in cultural tourism and recreational activities suited for the monument.

But the Tribune added that locals have expressed disinterest in their area becoming overrun with tourists, like Moab to the north. Apparently, there is little interest to actually attract people and business to beleaguered and beautiful San Juan County.

The Native American coalition called the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes, in Bluff, Utah, expressed dismay at Trump’s action (this includes the Hopi, Navajo, Ute and Zuni tribes), as reported today by Native News Online, saying, in part: "Bears Ears National Monument has brought much joy to our people,” said Carleton Bowekaty, Pueblo of Zuni Tribal Councilman. “Our responsibility is to move forward as collaborative managers of this sacred landscape, and to protect our heritage for all Americans for the benefit of all people. We will continue to do so until this matter is resolved by the courts.”

And despite the Trump administration claiming they spoke with local tribes about plans to dramatically scale back Bears Ears, a Hopi spokesperson discounted that claim.

Secretary Zinke and Utah politicians say that they have talked to tribes about the president’s decision, but none of our Council leaders, executives, or our Commissioners were contacted,” said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, Director of the Hopi Tribe Cultural Preservation Office. “Working with tribes means leaving Bears Ears intact and supporting the Commission’s efforts to bring our tribal expertise to the management of the Bears Ears National Monument – not leaving our important sites of pilgrimage, prayer, and the homes and graves of our ancestors, unprotected.

The Bears Ears Commission of Tribes also calls the decision a "historic injustice" in an editorial published today in the Salt Lake Tribune. This Native group plans to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration over this decision.

And if you would like to express your opinion on this issue, check out our new poll, here.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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