If you've been reading my blog these past many months, you will know the high value I place on public land. Without a doubt, I consider these words of Wallace Stegner, 1983, to be absolutely true.
"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
Just look at a few of the treasures we love right here in Western Washington. Can you imagine any one of them spoiled with mining or oil drilling; the wildlife hunted to extinction; used for private enterprises such as casinos, golf courses, theme parks; or covered with private homes, with all the roads and power lines and clearing of the land that entails?
|North Cascade National Park|
|Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve|
|Rainier National Park|
|Snoqualmie National Forest|
|Olympic National Park|
How would it feel if you suddenly came across this sign on your favorite hike in a national forest?
So imagine my shock when I find myself needing to defend our public lands, lands I hold sacrosanct. To hear utterings from certain powers to "sell the land" or, horrifyingly, "turn them over to private enterprise". I cringe.
Remember Reagan saying, "If you've seen one redwood tree, you've seen them all"? We all laughed, calling him a fool and disrespectful of the most beautiful forest imaginable.
|Redwood National Forest|
"Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states."
The provision calls for the immediate disposal of unspecified public lands leaving national forests, wilderness areas, national parks and wildlife refuges ripe for privatization, development or transfer of ownership. But it doesn't stop there. The Antiquities Act of 1906, protecting national monuments, is not safe either. Repealing or gutting this act would put such things as the Grand Canyon, Natural Bridges, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the Statue of Liberty at risk. As I continue to read, letting the words sink in, I feel alarm -- hard and bleak. The Republican Party platform proposal is for desecration of our treasured public lands.
This is not how Republicans have always seen conservation. In fact, how disappointed Teddy Roosevelt would be with his party's intended gutting of his greatest legacies. During his administration he was responsible for protecting 230 million acres -- 150 national forests, 51 federal bird preserves, 4 federal wildlife preserves, 18 national monuments, and 5 national parks. Included in his mission to protect our lands from exploitation were the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Devil's Tower in Wyoming, Gila Cliff Dwelling in New Mexico and Muir Woods in California.
To my mind, when we have park lands and historic treasures we protect and care for them, as was intended when they were set aside. These natural wonders are our heritage. Our sense of ourselves, our pride in our country, and our spiritual wonder are all wrapped up in our nation's most beautiful, dramatic and historic places.
I find it mind-boggling that there are anti-park folks or anti-government extremists who are unwilling to be good stewards of our nation's most special places. As Terry Tempest Williams says, "If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go."
"Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should -- not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water."
~ Clinton P. Anderson
Senator, New Mexico