The American people did not vote for Donald Trump because they wanted their forests logged, bounties placed on wolf packs, national monuments reduced in size, and a resumption of the universally outlawed ivory trade.
These odious policies are the direct result of the appointment of a swamp creature positioned by the crony class to further its own narrow financial interests and agenda: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Thankfully the president reversed Zinke’s plans for elephant trophies, calling them a “horror show,” which is what they are. But last week Trump traveled to Utah to announce the opening up of public lands for commercial developers to pillage and plunder to their hearts content.
Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante were first on the chopping block but Mr. Zinke has more in mind. At least eight more of our treasured national monuments, set aside for their beauty and the public’s enjoyment and use, are targeted for reduction. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the authority to set aside public lands as national monuments, and also to do the reverse. After reviewing these sites, Zinke has recommended that Trump reclassify and reduce the size of these national treasures.
No president has ever shrunk the sizes of monuments, but the Department of the Interior is filled with swamp denizens like Zinke and his deputy David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and big agribusiness, those most interested in using public land for private gain.
This reclassification means the acreage of the national monuments will be reduced, and the lands—some of the most spectacular scenic areas in the country—can be used for commercial development.
Unlike national parks, national monuments allow local residents and tourists alike to participate in recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, cattle-grazing, and hiking. This is why local businesses, sportsmen, and community groups tend to support keeping the monuments intact, as they provide dependable incomes for local economies, including the additions of jobs.
There is also widespread and bipartisan public support for preserving our national monuments. A new McLaughlin & Associates poll of 1,000 likely voters found that 90 percent of Americans support the creation of more monuments or at least keeping the current ones protected. Maintaining these lands also has the backing of local Native American tribes and chambers of commerce.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico is a prime example of how local areas surrounding national monuments can benefit from tourist opportunities. In 2016, tourism hit an all-time high following the monument’s mention in Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Places to Visit” travel guide, which resulted in a 50 percent increase in visitors over the past year. The monument features petroglyph-line canyons, with thousands of Native American archeological sites, and many historical landmarks and training sites.
If the personal income of those who live near the Organ Mountains can increase by 42 percent, community involvement in supporting national monuments can lead to economic prosperity throughout the country.
Nonetheless, Secretary Zinke has recommended reclassifying Organ Mountains Desert Peaks for oil drilling and mining.
Gold Butte National Monument features significant cultural, historical, and natural treasures: thousands of Native American artifacts, historic mining and pioneering artifacts, rare and threatened wildlife, and dramatic geologic features. Broad and deep local support is a principal reason for its designation, which, in turn, has benefitted the community greatly.
Gold Butte also encourages tourism and increases expenditures for local businesses. An economic study conducted by Applied Analysis found that if only 10 percent of new visitors decided to spend one night in Mesquite, Nevada, the total economic impact for the community would be $2.7 million per year. Think about what that could mean if visitors were to spend the week.
Nevertheless, Secretary Zinke proposes that Gold Butte National Monument should be opened to “traditional uses,” including mining and drilling.
Aside from their captivating scenery and cultural and historical sites, monuments already provide an economic boost for nearby communities without risking damage to their environments. Additionally, their archaeological sites are a link to our prehistoric past and a vital tether to Native American cultural history.
Secretary Zinke’s misguided policies are toxic for local communities and even worse for American economic prosperity. President Trump knows business, but he also understands the need to protect these lands and the local economies they serve. He is wise to question the plans of his swamp creature and should continue to do so.
Ron Maxwell is writer and director of the award-winning film Gettysburg.