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Tom Hannagan: Our public lands are there to be protected

Tom Hannagan: Our public lands are there to be protected

It’s sad to see our president smiling broadly while holding up his proclamations removing development protection from two special natural wonders. It’s not a happy occasion for those of us who enjoy visiting the outdoors or seeing that unique places of natural beauty and cultural history are preserved.

Instead, we are seeing the government that is responsible for our public lands become the No. 1 enemy of the natural and cultural objects found in such places.

By attempting to reduce two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, the administration is trying to reverse over 100 years of positive conservation progress. And for what, the possibility now of leasing the land to mining and drilling interests?

The point of these special public lands is that they contain historical objects, unique ecosystems, or endangered species that should be permanently protected. So, why remove the protection. Is it because we need more coal? Perhaps. Campaign contributions from special interests? Perhaps.

Then again, maybe it has something to do with favoring one person from Utah, who happens to be the head of the Senate Finance Committee and recently orchestrated passage of the administration’s desired tax bill. If so, we the people, are paying a very dear price for the granting of a campaign promise.

Public lands are ours. They belong to all of us, the people of the United States. They do not “belong” to any one state, and should not be used as bargaining chips to return political favors. The 10 Western states were already given millions of acres when they were chartered by the federal government. The remaining federal land, our land, does not belong to the states. It’s there for the people’s enjoyment, now and for generations to come.

Except it won’t be there in its current beauty if it’s not protected from development for short-term profits by the robber barons of our time. Trump, speaking to the Utah politicians in attendance, said at his celebratory signing away some 2 million acres, that he’s giving them “voice over the use of the land.” What about our voice — the voice of the people of the United States who own the land? In the recent Department of Interior review of national monuments, almost 3 million comments were sent in. Over 90 percent in favor of keeping protections in place for these lands.

Trump further said that “regulators thousands of miles away … don’t know your land and truly they don’t care for your land like you do.” Does he mean it’s Utah’s land now? Did he just give away our property? Or, does this just mean that the professionals at the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management do not know what they’re doing and truly don’t care? My answer is that it may be Mr. Trump that doesn’t know what he’s doing or truly doesn’t care.

It’s too bad that the administration doesn’t care about the wishes of five local Native American tribes that regard Bears Ears as full of sacred places. And forget about the scientific work being done. It’s too bad that the administration is so focused on undoing the environmental progress established by previous administrations, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

As John Muir advised over a century ago, it’s one thing to establish a special place, but another to continue its protection. Please let your voice be heard by your federal legislators.

Tom Hannagan is president of Friends of Ironwood Forest.

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