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"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."

-- Wallace Stegner, 1983

If someone would just explain to me why protecting air, water and land from pollution and erosion is a bad idea, I could just shut up and go away. However, after 50 years of trying to find a logical, reasonable explanation for the rape, pillage and plunder of the Earth and its creatures, humans included, so far the prevailing mantra I've heard for such behavior is, "jobs!"

And, oh yes, there's also that one about man having dominion over the earth. Dominion is not the same thing as destruction, so if the gods are keeping score, we humans are in serious trouble.

"Baloney," I say, to the jobs excuse. Those doing this damage, and the politicians they hire to make their actions legal, don't have such gushing empathy for their fellow man that they are harvesting the Earth's resources purely to employ folks. Unless people spend most of their lives with their heads in the sand or are incurably naive, surely they've noticed it's the mighty moguls of industry and conglomerations of corporations who benefit from laying waste to landscapes and once-healthy environments. Oftentimes the more rapacious among them discount human damage with as much disregard as they show for environmental damage.

On the governmental side of things, we are not paying enough attention to what's going on in the backrooms of power. Our nation's federal lands, which include parks, wilderness areas, forests, rivers (like Arkansas' Buffalo River, the nation's first national river), monuments, seashores, ocean habitats, tribal lands, wildlife refuges, and cultural and historical sites, are in danger of being downgraded, defunded, privatized, turned over to states, and/or cashed in by those in control of Congress and the White House.

There's a loud circus in Washington, D.C., right now distracting our focus away from more serious things. Rest assured those who have long been quietly licking their chops to extract even more public resources are busy at work. At this moment, they are probably composing yet another executive order or policy change that will remove more protections, which they demean as "regulations," out of the hands of the public and into the jaws of the highest bidders.

Signed in April, the president's executive order titled "Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act" is a directive to Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior, to "review" federal monument designations. The integrity of this 1906 act, which gives presidents the power to protect land, will most likely be tested on Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, set up by Obama before leaving office. However, about 20 national monument lands over 100,000 acres in size could be affected if Congress or the president can find ways to rescind the current law so that they can sell, transfer or reduce these properties in size. Guess who'll be waiting for that moment with wallet in hand.

Throughout global history there has been a life and death power struggle for resources. Private gain extraction industries (timber, oil, gas, coal, uranium, etc.), which possess tremendous political clout and endless money, are pitted against a public consisting mostly of individuals, non-profit organizations or tribes struggling to keep public lands and water sources safe and intact. Fortunately, these businesses are in direct conflict with another huge industry that provides even more jobs. Tourism, centered on our country's unique natural landscape, is a multi-billion-dollar business bringing economic lifeblood to hundreds of communities and thousands of people. But, tourism's existence depends on keeping our outdoor treasures clean, safe and original.

Natural wonders are easily destroyed. Imagine, for example, what gas and oil fracking near Arches National Park might do to the scenery and to the delicate rock marvels in that landscape. Arctic drilling, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon's watershed, strip mining for coal, off-shore oil exploration, clear cutting of forests, pipelines across waterways, pig farms near rivers, etc. are all exploitation practices that destroy our natural world. (For more on federal land issues, read this post.)

Woody Guthrie sang, "This land is your land, this land is my land." We must remember those words if we are to become active stewards in this custody battle over what happens to our country. Tell your congressmen and the president, " Get your hands off our land!" And mean it.

Commentary on 06/20/2017

Print Headline: This land is whose land?

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