by Andrew Christie, Chapter Director
Just about a year before Donald Trump moved into the Oval Office, rancher Cliven Bundy was arrested in Portland, Oregon, en route to join his sons Ammon and Ryan and some two dozen other anti-government militia members who had decided to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The occupation of the refuge transfixed the nation, largely as a farce, until it ended in tragedy when one of the Bundy’s followers was killed in a shoot-out with the FBI.
From the moment the occupation began, the news coverage, late-night comedy, and internet commentary focused largely on the stumbling antics of the occupiers as they attempted to provoke confrontation and the elaborate restraint of the authorities. It did not get much into the single, burning belief that drove Bundy & co. across several hundred miles of highway and into pup tents in the dead of winter: The idea that the federal government does not have the authority to manage public lands. This philosophy is the land use version of secession. (Cliven Bundy had become the nation’s most famous freeloader and darling of the radical right two years earlier when he embarked on a stand-off with the Bureau of Land Management over his claimed right to illegally graze his cows on public land, racking up and not paying $1 million in decades of grazing fees and fines.)
Last Monday, as they commenced an unprecedented attack on the concept of setting aside and conserving lands on behalf of the American people, Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke did not directly state that the federal government does not have the authority to manage public lands, but they might as well have. At the Utah rally where Trump began slashing millions of acres out of multiple national monuments, that sentiment came out of the President’s mouth like this:
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong. They don’t know your land, and truly, they don’t care for your land like you do. But from now on, that won’t matter.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert immediately displayed his care for the land by affirming his eagerness to crank up uranium and coal mining in land that Trump had just declared open for business.
Trump is attempting to remove protections from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah – by itself, the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history -- the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and California, and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Promised changes in management plans to allow for “traditional uses” (read: mining, logging, drilling, and industrial-scale commercial fishing) are aimed at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments in New Mexico, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll National Monuments in the Pacific.
In the Reagan era, the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use movement were the reactionary hotbeds that fueled the dreams of resource extractors which Trump is now attempting to turn into reality. (Ten years ago, San Luis Obispo County got a local taste of this when the group Protect Our Property Rights sprang up for the purpose of driving into law a right to build mansions on top of ridgelines in the fifty square miles between Highway 41 and Highway 46 – aka the Cayucos Viewshed – with the advice and counsel of the national far-right group Stewards of the Range. The Sierra Club won that fight.)
There are several hitches in Trump’s giddy-up:
~ What he is doing is illegal. Only Congress -- not the President -- has the authority to change existing national monuments. Lawsuits have already filed by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and five Native American tribes.
~ National monuments managed by the Bureau of Land Management are already open to hunting and angling; nothing about monument designation changed existing management practices worked out by the State and the BLM.
~ Each national monument designation honors valid, existing rights and was carefully tailored to reflect conversations with the local community.
Saturday is the final day of the Week of Action to Save Our National Monuments. Thousands of people have participated in actions across the country to defend our national monuments from Trump's unprecedented and illegal attack. This will be a long fight, but right now is the time for we, the people, to make our voices heard.