As parents, my husband and I don’t always do everything right, but one thing we’re both proud of is how we’re raising our children to appreciate the great outdoors. Every time the weather permits, we head out to take a quiet hike among the tree-lined trails of one of the area’s federal parks. Whether they are hitched on our backs or scampering alongside us, our children revel in what they’ve dubbed our “nature walks.”
That’s why it hit so close to home when the Trump Administration announced in December 2017 it was rolling back protections for some of the nation’s greatest natural treasures: the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. As we mark National Parks Day this month, it’s worth breaking down why that decision still matters.
In one fell swoop, Donald Trump sought to reduce these federally protected lands by some two million acres, reversing conservation measures made by Presidents Obama and Clinton and exposing to the whims of industrial development nearly 100,000 important archaeological sites, lands of great significance to Native American heritage, and the legacy of all our children.
In the words of outdoor goods and apparel company Patagonia: “The President stole your land.” That’s something that should concern everyone.
For starters, rollbacks on open land threaten a significant share of the economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the $887 billion outdoor recreation industry accounts for more than 7.6 million jobs nationally and generates tens of billions in tax revenue at the federal and state levels. Low barriers to entry means entrepreneurs have little to keep them from launching businesses of all sizes designed to serve outdoor enthusiasts who want to hike, climb, hunt, and fish. But all of these businesses depend on access to our public lands and waters to thrive.
At the same time, there’s ample evidence to refute the idea that our current national monuments are needed for commercial use, in particular oil and gas interests. Bureau of Land Management records show that as many as 7,500 drilling permits on federal leases are not being used as it is.
More broadly, the preservation of open lands around the country is critical to so many aspects of our daily lives that we may take for granted — from the cleanliness of the water we drink to the purity of the air we breathe. Overdevelopment not only contributes to increased air pollution from cars and appliances, runoff from our roadways dirties our waterways and building and construction can endanger the very buffer zones we rely on to shield our communities from hurricane damage. These considerations are one reason every single plan to address climate change released by the Democratic presidential candidates so far includes safeguarding our public lands as a key part of the solution.
Ironically, protecting the environment is an area where we have always found some bipartisan consensus. Republican conservationists and hunters have regularly joined forces with progressives to advance policies that defend our natural resources — and Gallup surveys over the years show Americans increasingly see combating global warming as critically important. In fact, 59% of Americans believe the U.S. government is doing too little in terms of protecting the environment.
It’s little wonder that organizations including the Sierra Club, Native American Tribes, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Patagonia and others are taking legal action to stop President Trump from shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. And during the 2018 cycle, a group called the Western Values Project went on the air with television ads in Arizona, Oregon, and Washington State urging Republican Members of Congress in key districts to “stop the attacks on public lands” just as polling showed voters there opposed the rollbacks on the monuments in Utah. Win or lose, the implications are massive — either we will open the door for further stripping of protections for other monuments, or we will safeguard our heritage and our lands for future generations to enjoy their own “nature walks.”
A few months ago, my preschooler stopped dead in his tracks on one of our hikes. With a look of awe and gleeful discovery, he squatted and pointed to a spot on the ground. Upon closer inspection, we saw he had spotted a baby snake no more than 3 inches in length slithering swiftly to the safety of the tall grasses nearby. It was the briefest of glimpses into the wonders of nature and one we all could easily have missed — but that none of us should have to.
In any case, we owe it to our children to make the decision with open eyes.
Lynda Tran is a Democratic strategist and a founding partner at consulting firm 270 Strategies.