Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How the West Was Lost

Donald Trump rolled back land protections granted by the Clinton and Obama administrations to acreage in Utah under the 1906 Antiquities Act.  He announced that the two national monuments would be downsized to allow the state to take over the land for - you guessed it - commercial purposes.  The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which includes Broken Bow Arch (below), will have its area reduced by half, but the Bears Ears National Monument will be reduced in size by as much as 85 percent. 
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the recommendations, and Trump can easily say he's merely following the advice of an expert.  Right.  Zinke is a former Montana congressman, and like most hack politicians from the West, his only expertise is in opening up more federal land to drilling, timber clearing, and in the case of Utah, mining and fossil-fuel extraction.  Hardly surprisingly, Utah's all-Republican (and all-Mormon) congressional delegation enthusiastically supports the move. 
There's nothing new about the western states wanting to do what they please with federal land and opposing the federal government's attempts to regulate it.  But what is new in this case is that Trump is reversing the monument protection established by his predecessors in such a brazen, sweeping manner.  There are few examples of the land preservation rollback that Trump has pulled.  Some of America's most beautiful and most ecologically sensitive landscapes could be lost forever, now that the monument declaration for much of the land has been rescinded. 
The land is also the site of ancient Native American artifacts and sacred burial grounds, mostly of the Navajo tribe. Navajo and other Indians of the region have wanted to ensure the land's preservation, but the white men who represent Utah in Congress (and Utah's Representative Mia Love, the only black woman in the House Republican caucus) can't be bothered with such concerns.  Representative Robert Bishop, who represents Utah's First House District, not only is among the staunchest opponents of the Antiquities Act, he also advocates for the repeal of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, saying that he "would love to invalidate" the law to spur economic development in his district.
I once called Utah, because of its landscape and because of its historic role as the Mormon homeland, America's Israel.  I didn't realize how right I was; just as the Israelis have built their Zion on the land taken from the Palestinians without regard to their culture, so the Mormons have built a Zion indifferent to the cultural concerns of  the Navajo and Ute tribes that populated the land first. 
Trump's land grab could set a dangerous precedent for future repeals of Antiquities Act protections - not just by his own administration (rumor has it that he's eyeing the rollback of a national marine monument in Hawaii declared by President George W. Bush) but by future administrations.  Because some legal experts say the only Congress can modify a presidential declaration of a national monument, this rollback is going to be challenged in court. Yvon Chouinard, the founding CEO of the Patagonia outdoor gear company, laid down the gauntlet for everyone against this rollback.
"I think the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits," the 79-year-old Chouinard said in an interview with CNN. "We're losing this planet, and we have an evil government. And not just the federal government, but wacko politicians out of Utah and places. I mean, it's evil. And I'm not going to stand back and just let evil win."
Evil.  Wacko.  Whoa, you better watch out when you start calling Mormons epithets like that.
Patagonia is already suing.  Go get 'em, Mr. Chouinard. :-)  

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