Saturday, July 22, 2017

How Foolish Can These People Be? The Treasure of our National Monuments

Let's make something very clear: these lands belong to the American people. They have always belonged to the American people, dating back to the time of statehood. There were attempts at times to give some of the lands away a century ago under the Homestead Act, but no one wanted them (not that anyone was asking Native Americans at the time).
There are people who have borrowed these lands. Some of them were miners, others were oil drillers, some were ranchers. But they were renters, leasers, who owed fees to help keep the lands healthy. It may be that some of them feel they own these lands because they used them for decades, but if we go by that standard, the land belongs to the Native Americans who used these lands for thousands of years. But the ranchers and miners have persisted, and they finally seem to have found a "champion" in Washington. Secretary of the Interior Zinke and President Trump have suggested that they might rescind the national monument status of some of our most precious lands.
 The lands were set aside by proclamations of several presidents, both Republican and Democrat, under the auspices of the National Antiquities Act. Rescinding these monuments would be illegal, but there is no one in Washington apparently who will fight to protect them. Foremost among them are Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Bear's Ears, which are the monuments I am highlighting with these pictures.
The so-called "process" had to include public comments, and according to reports, the public support for these monuments has been on the order of 98%. But I fear that the desires of the American people will be ignored in Washington. This must not be allowed to happen.
There is local opposition to these monuments. Some of it has come, as noted above, from ranchers and miners. But I'm not going to mince words here: much of the local opposition is coming from pothunters who would despoil the heritage of the Native Americans who lived and died here for thousands of years. They fear monument status would mean more scrutiny and greater protection of the archaeological resources of these monuments. And it should. These people are criminals.
Those leading the local opposition, if they had a single brain among them, should be calling on Congress to make these monuments into national parks. I've been to Zion National Park and others in the region and they are so crowded that it is degrading the experience of visiting. It would be incredibly smart to capitalize on the demand for beautiful open spaces by making new parks to take on some of the tourism. These parks would be a marvelous addition to the crown jewels of our national heritage.
I'm making an economic argument for the protection of these lands, but the most important reason to preserve them is ethical and moral. These canyons and alcoves contain the heritage of numerous cultures, and we don't have the right to vandalize their history. We don't have the right to strip mine the sacred places of a people.
Do what you can to maintain the integrity of our national monuments. The time for comments is past, but you can make sure that your congressional and senate representatives hear from you. Please don't let these lands be stolen again. The destruction of the past is permanent, and the shame will be on us all if we allow it to happen.