Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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EDITORIAL

What would Teddy Roosevelt do?

  • Trump-Cascade-Sisikyou

    In this July 16, 2017 file photo, protesters show their support for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument at the Medford Bureau of Land Management office in Medford, Ore.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • National-Monuments-Interior

    In this May 9, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides in the Bears Ears National Monument with local and state representatives in Blanding, Utah. Zinke is strongly disputing a claim by outdoor retailer Patagonia that President Donald Trump "stole" public land by shrinking two national monuments in Utah.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

One can only imagine the reaction of Teddy Roosevelt to his party’s folly and loss of principle.

Republicans, led by President Trump, are opening up millions of acres of federally protected land to miners, loggers, and oil exploration.

The unwarranted surrender of some of the nation’s most beautiful land to excavators cannot be justified as “giving back to the states.” What is really happening is that protected land and monuments are being stripped of that protection. 

TR would be aghast. After becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt made it a mission to protect wildlife and public lands, believing that the nation had a duty to protect green space for future generations. He created the United States Forest Service, which established 150 national forests. He also protected approximately 230 million acres of public land during his time in office.

The 26th president also signed the Antiquities Act, which, ironically, has been used by President Trump to reshape the boundaries of national monuments. Congress has the power to create national parks, but the Antiquities Act allows presidents to additionally protect areas of historical or cultural significance. Mr. Trump and his supporters have argued that it  gives presidents the power to reduce the size of national monuments as well.

On Monday, President Trump dramatically shrank the amount of protected land in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. Former President Barack Obama protected 1.35 million acres in December, 2016. Mr. Trump cut that total to about 200,000 acres, arguing that it is federal overreach for the government to tie up states’ land. The President also cut about 1 million acres from Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which President Bill Clinton protected in 1996.

The Navajo Nation, other tribes, and environmental groups are vowing to keep the issue tied up in court for years, arguing that only Congress can reduce the amount of federally protected land. The land in Bears Ears holds great cultural and spiritual significance for the Navajo. 

The courts are now the only place to resolve this. There may well have been federal overreach. But for the federal government to go so far in the other direction — stripping thousands of acres of precious and sacred lands from federal protection — mocks the whole function of the federal government and is unconscionable.

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