When Ryan Zinke, the newly confirmed secretary of the interior, was asked about his views on climate change, he responded with a heartwarming story about how he and his family “ate lunch on Granola Glacier in Glacier National Park and it receded during lunch.” What Zinke lacks in logic he makes up for in geologic vision. Now he heads an agency that manages 80 million acres of national parkland, 250 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, and 700 million acres of subsurface mining ‘land.’ The total land area of Colorado is about 66 million acres by comparison. The nagging question that remains: Can we stop glaciers from receding by skipping lunch?
No wait, that’s not the question. The question is, will the Trump Administration sell off public lands, or transfer them to the states? If Congress were to make such transfers “cost-free,” they would be easier than ever. Utah congressman Rob Bishop bristled at the idea that this change might bring about land changing hands, calling it (the idea, not his own logic) “bullshit.”
Could federal lands be turned over to the states? Could we see condos circling Delicate Arch? Natural gas wells in Canyonlands? Mesa Verde Casino and Golf Resort? Hopefully not. Even if the government chooses not to transfer the land, however, that does not guarantee a “win” for environmental groups and opposed citizens. President Trump and Secretary Zinke have both declared, in contradiction to past statements, that it is in the country’s best interest to keep public lands. Or, as Trump said, he is opposed to the idea “because [he] want[s] to keep the lands ‘great’”. Remember that his cabinet is packed with oil and gas executives with fracking and drilling interests. His views are backed by Secretary Zinke. Federal lands in Western states, specifically Alaska, may soon be targets for increased mining, drilling, fracking, etc. To paraphrase, why sell the cow when you can drink the milk “for free” (after Congress changes the definition of “free” and waives oil and gas royalty payments)?
Trump is already taking action. He put a gag order on National Park Service staff in response to inflammatory tweets on climate change. He then announced that “the federal government will hire no new employees or contractors except for positions that agencies deem necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” The National Parks in particular depend on seasonal employees. In fact, there are typically 8,000 seasonal workers employed by the parks and currently 437 full-time jobs posted, all of which are in jeopardy unless the parks can be re-purposed as bombing ranges.
I first thought of the seasonal firefighters employed by the Forest Service under the USDA. Because those jobs are “deem[ed] necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities,” the Forest Service is seeking clearance to move forward with the hiring process. As far as safety and maintenance go, the National Park Service is already understaffed and unprepared to handle the 325 million visitors expected this year. Park roads will close, along with visitor centers, and maybe even entire facilities. The hours of operation for facilities that remain open will be reduced. The hiring freeze puts people’s careers at risk, people who work long hours to conserve and protect America’s most treasured spaces. If they privatize the parks, some employees would be re-hired at minimum wage with no benefits, but that will do more harm than good for those within the park industry.
There are organizations fighting the proposed changes. Maybe they won’t go through, or maybe this is one of Trump’s ‘deals’: scare the public with a radical proposal and then agree to settle for what he wanted all along—more oil and gas. Rather than fighting specific legislation, it is more powerful to raise awareness of the importance of protecting public lands. Is it not only fiscally responsible, but also environmentally and morally wise. Protect Our Public Lands is an organization fighting legislative efforts to push for the privatization of public lands. Through social media, news, and word of mouth, they want people to fight for public lands alongside them. There is also a petition featured front and center on their website. Our American Public Land is another organization that offers statistical information, newsletters, and ‘quick facts’ for readers, sponsors, and activists. They spread awareness by citing relevant statistics and scientific research.
There are a multitude of organizations working to garner public support for American land and even more on the rise. For example, every year since 2011, Colorado College has distributed a seven-state survey that “explores bi-partisan opinions in each state and for the Rocky Mountain West region concerning the conservation, environment, energy, the role of government, trade-offs with economics, and citizen priorities.” There are countless meetings to attend, phone calls to make, and petitions to sign. Teddy Roosevelt is turning in his grave, and now is the time to get involved in opposing the legislation and executive action that threatens to change our beautiful wild land forever.