| 03.20.2018

Manhandled monuments — The reduction of two national monuments should alarm Idahoans



Surprise, Idaho students should be worried by the news out of the White House over the last several weeks.

However, this doom and gloom has nothing to do with student debt, global warming or international crises. This news hits much closer to home than usual. President Donald Trump slashed more than two million acres of land off of two national parks in Utah, Idaho’s vast wilderness reserves could be next.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national parks were reconfigured this week in a move that was based on greenlighting business opportunities in the area. It was also a reversal of former President Barack Obama’s decision to declare Bears Ears a national monument.

As is just about everything with Trump, the move was not without controversy. Many critics cried out that this was a vast overstepping of his presidential authority. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gave presidents the power to create national monuments, but did not state whether or not the president had the power to shrink them. Woodrow Wilson is the only other president in history to shrink a national monument, cutting 300,000 acres off of Mount Olympus National Monument in Washington State back in 1915. That move was taken as somewhat of an emergency measure to access wood resources that would be desperately needed as the nation marched toward participation in World War I.

Trump and interior secretary Ryan Zinke reviewed a wide variety of protected lands that had been under protection. Two more national monuments will be shrunk, and six other protected sites will get new designations to favor economic opportunity over conservation.

Zinke and Trump have not yet decided to reevaluate protected lands in Idaho. However, this trend shows no sign of stopping and Idaho would be an easy prospective target.

Our state has an abundance of protected lands. Places like the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and Craters of the Moon national monument would not be as awe-inspiring as they are today if they did not receive federal protection. A total 60 percent of the state is public land, meaning more than 31 million acres belong to the public domain. If the president and his administration are willing to give two million acres back to the states (which is subsequently sold to businesses) with the reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to suggest wide swaths of our forests and mountains could be within the grasp of logging and mining corporations.

Given this is the government we are talking about, it will take some time for actions on Idaho public lands to take place. However, if the government is as transparent as it should be with an issue like this, a reduction of our own public lands will not come as a surprise. If such a day comes, we must be prepared to take the requisite action to protect the natural resources that make our state such a wonderful place to live and recreate. They produce millions of dollars in tourism and responsible consumption while simultaneously preserving natural and cultural wonders that can inspire and provide for generations to come.

There would be less to worry about if Zinke was someone who loved the outdoors and might possibly be able to consider the benefits of conservation in addition to economic development.

This iteration of the federal government has taken conscious steps to prove that care very little about the preservation of natural and cultural resources. Idaho’s abundance of both should be cause for worry and inspiration for action if we are next on the hit list.

Jonah Baker can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @jonahpbaker

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