Public lands decisions and sleeping on the ground
I wish Donald Trump had been in the passenger seat of our 43-year-old Land Cruiser for at least a portion of our travels over the past six weeks. (Well, not really. You can imagine the conversations might have been a little heated and the purpose of those trips, to relax and refresh, could have been compromised.)
If he had, our president could have expanded his outdoor view beyond the manicured greens of his golf courses or the seaside views from Mar-A-Lago. He’d have returned to those more refined settings with a personal connection to the wide open spaces in Utah and Nevada we traversed en route to the Great Basin National Park, Yosemite, Death Valley, Manzanar, and the Mojave National Preserve.
Closer to home, he could have hiked in the Colorado National Monument with Bonnie last week or marveled at the 55 wild horses we saw and photographed up behind the Book Cliffs Saturday as we toured the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range guided by informative folks with Friends of the Mustangs.
And maybe, just maybe, he’d now have a better understanding, as we head toward Colorado’s Public Lands Day this weekend, of the importance of preserving part of our public lands rather than setting up a challenge to the way some of them are created.
Just three weeks after Saturday’s celebration, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s interim report on the creation of national monuments via the Antiquities Act is due. By June 9, he’s to present to Trump initial views about monuments declared within the past 21 years, notably the years between President Clinton’s creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument created by President Obama.
In Trump’s world, Bears Ears is “something that should never have happened.” Zinke’s recent visit to Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, was long on horseback rides and discussions with monument opponents with less time given to talks with supporters and no time at all for Dine Bikeyah, the originators of the Bears Ears idea, or to the Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce, which wanted to outline the economic benefits Grand Staircase-Escalante has generated.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman, is between the scenic red rocks and a hard place in his mission.
It’s clear what his boss wants. Legal scholars are also pretty clear that legislation creating the Antiquities Act used by 16 presidents to create 157 monuments makes no provision for rescinding those actions. Given Trump’s cavalier attitude toward legal and constitutional constraints, it’s not hard to imagine a lengthy battle over at least some of the 50 threatened designations, which include Canyon of the Ancients in southwestern Colorado.
By my count, we’ve visited around 40 of the presidentially designated monuments, some of which have since become national parks or others which later were incorporated into the White River and Rio Grande National Forests. Our list includes, of course, the Colorado National Monument, among the first created by a presidential action.
I sometimes wonder if today’s local Chamber of Commerce or our current local elected officials would be as supportive of that particular designation as were their predecessors. Or whether they’d be as upset as most Utah politicians.
Since his untimely death, we’ve tried to honor the wisdom of my late friend Randy Udall, who once told me “the world would be a better place if everyone spent at least ten nights a year sleeping on the ground.” I have to think we’d have better decisions regarding our public lands if those deciding their fate would also take Randy’s advice, leave the banks of the Potomac and pitch a tent out here along the Colorado or the Gunnison.
I’ll even offer “penthouse camping” in the rooftop tent atop the old Land Cruiser.
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Given my history as a sometime lobbyist at the state capitol, you’d think I’d not make mistakes like the one in last week’s column unfairly chastising Rep. Yeulin Willett for a supposed vote he never made against a pipeline mapping proposal. Must have confused bill numbers, I guess. Ironically, Willett was a co-sponsor of a failed budget amendment that would have included money for more COGCC field inspectors. He’s graciously accepted my apology.