National Parks and Public Lands at Risk

By Jennifer Owens and first published on Nature Is My Homegirl – For ladies who love the earth

“We must not only protect the country side and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities … Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.”

– Lyndon B. Johnson

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Yellowstone National Park

National Parks comprise of America’s most scenic and historic places and were established and protected to preserve the land. “National Parks are spacious land . . . areas essentially in their primeval condition and so outstandingly superior in beauty to average examples of their several types as to demand preservation intact and in their entirety for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of all the people for all time.” – Library of Congress, Brief History of the National Parks.

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Grand Teton National Park

National Parks and Forests have literally changed my life and so many others. Last year, when president Obama visited Yosemite National Park with his family on Father’s day he said, “You can’t capture this on an iPad, or a flat screen, or even an oil painting, You’ve got to come in and breathe it in here yourself.” I totally agree! I had never before seen mountains so majestic, glacier lakes so clear, forests so dense and wildlife roaming free. I wept at the beauty, explored the waters and trails and felt an immense sense of peace and tranquility. More importantly, I felt inspired. Inspired to tread lightly on this beautiful land we call home and the intricate interdependency of life. I do not believe we have the right to destroy and decimate land as we see fit, to continue to supply money to big corporations that survive by exploitation and disregard for the effects of its practices.

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Glacier National Park

States have been selling off public lands since their creation. For example, Idaho has sold more than 1.7 million acres of land to special interests (think mining, drilling, golf courses…). In fact, many republicans have been quietly paving the way of not only selling public lands to oil and gas drilling, but getting rid of national parks and forests all together (by turning over all federal lands to the states). WTF?? Jason Chaffetz, Utah republican congressman released the following statement after reintroducing two bills dealing with the 67 percent of the State of Utah that is under federal ownership.

“It’s time to get rid of the BLM and US Forest Service police. If there is a problem your local sheriff is the first and best line of defense. By restoring local control in law enforcement, we enable federal agencies and county sheriffs to each focus on their respective core missions.

“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities.”

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Yellowstone National Park

Under the guise of increasing state revenue and economic development (they say there are generating jobs, but really they are making money and buying votes in my humble opinion), selling federally protected and managed lands to states means that states don’t have to use the same criteria for protection and conservation. Using the Congressional Review Act (an oversight tool that Congress may use to overturn a rule issued by a federal agency), lawmakers such as Paul Gosar, of Arizona are trying to overturn federal laws. By the way,  since the CRA creation, there has only been one instance when Congress was able to overturn a regulation (with a majority republican house and senate, I think this act will be mores successful in the coming days). According to the National Park Conservation Association, Gosar introduced H.J. Res. 46, which seeks to repeal updates to the National Park Service’s “9B” rules. The rules require detailed planning and set safety standards for oil and gas drilling inside the more than 40 national parks that have “split estate” ownership, where the federal government owns the surface but not the subsurface mineral rights. If these repeals are signed into laws, the protections will no longer exist and the public lands will be for sale.

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Badlands National Park

In addition to removing protection for mining, fracking and drilling on public lands, the CRA is also being used to attempt to dismantle the Stream Protection Rule (SPR), which protects safe drinking water near mining communities. The house voted in favor of appealing the SPR and while they were at it, also voted to eliminate a rule that required gas and oil companies from disclosing payments to foreign countries. In opposition, (D) Maxine Waters stated, “the American people have a right to know where Big Oil is drilling and who they’re paying, especially if it involves countries that have been hostile to the United States.” She also stated that companies like Exxon Mobile would benefit as they would be able to continue questionable dealings, like Rex Tilerson (Trump’s nomination of sec of state) and Vladimir Putin. For years, National Parks have been underfunded and gradually devalued and now with the new, climate denying administration, who wish to dismantle the EPA and drill, mine and log without discrimination or foresight, the parks are the most vulnerable they have ever been. It is up to us, the people to protect our lands.

What does all of this mean? We need to move beyond the jobs vs. environment dichotomy in order to make sure our nation’s most precious lands are protected for future generations (not to mention the safety of human health and jeopardizing basic rights that drilling, mining and fracking undermine). The Labor Network for Sustainability mentions 5 ways to bridge that gap and join together creating and maintaining jobs, while reducing environmental and health impacts. “Recognize the common interest in human survival and in sustainable livelihoods.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if God had intended some people to fight just for the environment and others to fight just for the economy, he would have made some people who could live without money and others who could live without water and air. There are not two groups of people, environmentalists and workers.  We all need a livelihood and we all need a livable planet to live on.  If we don’t address both, we’ll starve together while we’re waiting to fry together.”

What Can You Do?

  1. The first thing you can do is directly support national parks. Backpacker shares 10 things you can do to support your parks, including visiting a park and sharing with a friend. Start with the National Park closest to you!
  2. Check out the advocacy page of the National Parks Conservation Association. You can take action on a variety of issues and monitor National Park laws and policies during the Trump administration.
  3. You can support (donate or volunteer) a program that protects, via National Park Foundation. Examples of programs include, connection diverse and underserved communities to National Parks and preserving night skies.
  4. Join Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign to learn more about how you can protect the last bit of undisturbed land in our country.
  5. Follow the Alt National Parks Facebook and Twitter accounts and join the movement. This movement grew out of the “rogue” accounts of park employees after the Trump admin issued a media blackout for all federal employees.
  6. Lastly, check out and support these organization’s programs to protect our public lands.
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Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park
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