Nancy Working: The real threat to our public lands
What do you know about the Department of the Interior? With Commissioner Ryan Zinke’s visit on the horizon, I decided it was time to learn more. As an executive department of the U.S. government, it is responsible for the management and conservation of one-fifth of the land in the United States, 35,000 miles of coastline and 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf.
Their website also says, “The impacts of climate change have led the Department to focus on how we manage our nation’s public lands and resources. The Department of the Interior contributes sound scientific research to address this and other environmental challenges.“
DOI lists as its first priority the creation of a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt, Zinke’s personal hero. President Roosevelt signed the American Antiquities Act in 1906.
This act, “obligates federal agencies that manage the public lands to preserve for present and future generations the historic, scientific, commemorative and cultural values of the archaeological and historic sites and structures on these lands.” It also authorizes the president to “protect landmarks, structures and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments.”
As a conservation-minded citizen, I am encouraged by these words but extremely discouraged by the Commission’s attitude toward scientific research, climate change and our public lands. Recently, Zinke was awarded a lifetime score of 4 percent for consistently voting against the environment from the League of Conservation Voters. It would be hard to do worse.
Despite overwhelming public comments that urged no reduction to the Bears Ears and Grand Escalante National Monuments, Zinke recommended reductions of these monuments by 85 percent and 50 percent, which Trump promptly endorsed. American Indian tribes, environmental groups and outdoor retailers filed lawsuits.
While we wait for the decision, mineral, oil and gas companies are poised to get busy extracting on our public lands, the investigation of further reductions and exploitation of other National Monuments continues.
Zinke has consistently advocated repeal of critical climate protections, methane gas emissions, auto emissions and clean air and water regulations. He has auctioned off nearly all of America’s coastlines for dangerous offshore drilling and opened loopholes to benefit the oil, coal and natural gas industries. He overturned a ban on coal mining on public lands and limited the reach of environmental safeguards for oil and gas leasing and development.
He mandated National Park personnel stop talking about the impacts of climate change on public lands. He has changed the direction of the DOI by moving around scientists and highly-regarded, knowledgeable senior staff and promoting early retirement. These actions cripple the DOI by creating vacancies in hard-to-fill positions and instilling distrust with management. For the first time since it was established in 1916, the National Park Service does not have a director, and no candidate has been named.
Our public lands and our environment are under threat by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Zinke’s actions are not in line with the department’s priorities and stated concern about the impacts of climate change but we can do something.
Please show your concern by supporting the “I Stand for Our Lands” rally here in Steamboat scheduled for Aug. 10. In the meantime, contact our representatives and ask them to “Stand for Our Lands.”
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