Almost immediately upon my arrival in Nashville 2 1/2 weeks ago, I thought that upon my return to Albany I’d be penning a blog post about revisiting some of the places in Tennessee and Kentucky that I had experienced in depth during the travels for my book. Alas, the socio-political culture these days has once more redirected my focus.
I probably will write that “return” post at some point. But for now, I am obliged to write about places I hope will still be there when I go back to them.
Yes, that’s right. Once again I am calling attention to something wonderful that the Trump administration is looking to destroy.
Perhaps when they decided to gut the EPA they imagined a flood of fiscally-conservative support to deflect from the potential horrors of eradicating an organization that came about because dense clouds of smog were hanging over cities and rivers were literally catching on fire. But in the case of the nation’s national monuments, they know they’re proposing something that the majority of Americans will not stand for in the abstract. For them, though, corporate interests and the production of capital must prevail. So they released this memo through the Department of the Interior (https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/interior-department-releases-list-monuments-under-review-announces-first-ever-formal) under the pretense of soliciting the input of “local” populations. It is the worst kind of artifice. Indeed, they didn’t even bother to get a good writer who could disguise their true intent. And because of this, even an average reader can discern what they’re looking for.
They are looking for people to complain about how the designation of protected federal land has negatively affected them. And with an anthology of complaints, they plan to present a case for stripping the owners of these lands (that is, Americans) and giving them (er, I mean, selling them for fair market value and reimbursing their previous owners (Americans) for their loss) to corporate interests, most notably those in the fossil fuel industry (why else would they go after the offshore preserves?).
People who have read my book will recognize many of the names on the list the DOI presents, and know my thoughts concerning their inimitable value to our country, our environment, and our culture. If I were to believe my own dreams, those words are now resonating in minds across the nation. But as I am well aware of the precise number of copies have actually been sold, allow me to buttress that profound cacophony with a few brief words about the monuments I have been to.
Canyons of the Ancients
This monument is really an extension of Mesa Verde National Park, only without the tidy coalescence of spectacular native dwellings. It is one of the few places left in America where the history of peoples living before recorded North American history can be studied. It is a spiritually fulfilling place for anyone looking to connect their lives to those of the earliest Americans.
It is also rich in oil and gas, and as such, these industries have been clamoring for more access.
A gorgeous collection of forests and hills in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, it has been at the forefront of study on how to sustainably manage timber and agricultural interests within the framework of preserving wilderness.
Obama designated an expansion of this park a week before Trump’s inauguration. If the lumber fights in that part of the country weren’t enough, surely that put it on the administration’s hit list.
Craters of the Moon
One of the most fascinating places in America, it is both a geological and historical wonderland. Some of the features found within the park cannot be found anywhere else in the country. It’s also east of the middle of nowhere, and life in the lava fields is incredibly harsh. For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with preserving this place.
I mean really, we’re thinking about rescinding the preservation of one of America’s most enduring symbols? I can only imagine that this one is just a middle finger to the state of California.
It was a dream fulfilled when I ascending the “steps” of the Grand Staircase, a wondrous array of colorful cliffs and rock formations that is cut through by canyons that might be considered untouchable national treasures if not for their proximity to the Grand Canyon. There are slot canyons, arches, paleontological sites, and petroglyphs. It is an amazing place.
It’s also a spur in the side of Utahans and many Republicans (though many Democrats also objected to the preservation of nearly 2-million acres of land). Bill Clinton used its designation as a re-election stunt. And mining companies have been clamoring to be let back in ever since. It’s definitely one of the trickier cases.
Examples of pristine desert are rapidly diminishing in America, and this monument protects only a small portion of one of the few left.
This one is easy. Livestock grazing rights vs. endangered species and land conservation.
Upper Missouri River Breaks
The Breaks are a spectacular collection of badlands in Montana, and one of my favorite places between the Rockies and the Mississippi. There are vast wildflower fields, stunning riverscapes, and magnificent rock formations. And there are dozens of sacred native sites.
There are also tens of thousands of cattle. See above.
Essentially, this is the Arizona section of the Grand Staircase. Sections of it are hypnotizing, and native pueblos are scattered throughout (native peoples have lived in the region for at least 12,000 years).
Almost nobody lives there. There are few roads in and out. But the government owned the land long before it was given to the people, so obviously it’s immoral to leave it be? I guess?
The other places on the list surely have equivalent values. I can only hope others are arguing for them, as well. Because this is an attack on part of our birthright. When a monument is declared, that land becomes ours in a very real and tangible way. We are the stewards of it, and in turn we become the beneficiaries of all it returns to us. As private citizens we would never tolerate (or at least not willingly cede to) the seizure of our property, so why are we so complacent– or even enthusiastic– when politicians with greased palms propose to strip these lands from us and open them up to private exploitation? Is it because we’ve never been to some of them? Because we can’t be bothered to quantify the good their preservation has done for us both in an appreciable (i.e., scientific, environmental, etc.) and an esoteric way?
I can not abide my land being threatened in this manner. And neither should you.