Smash ‘N’ Grab, the new policy of the West

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I visited an unmarked grave off U.S Route 18 in South Dakota. Had to cross a few cattle guards and hop some barbed wire, but I made my pilgrimage in October 2016. I could only think of the urban legend of someone ending up in a bathtub missing their kidneys.

In 1957 Congress withdrew Fossil Cycad National Monument from the National Park system. Looting of its eponymous fossil cache had removed every item the park designation was designed to protect. That’s the legal precedent for withdrawing land from such designations, but looting has now become policy.

Let’s talk more about government picking winners and losers out West. The coal fired Navajo Generating Station in Page Arizona closing citing the low cost of natural gas. If you go up the road 15 miles you’ll cross into Utah, there’s the Big Water Visitor Center for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Both the coal stacks and the sign welcoming you to Grand Staircase feel like they’re coming down.

The difference between National Monument and National Park is simply a cosmetic. It takes executive action to place federal land to make something a Monument and takes an act of Congress to make a National Park. The level of protection does not differ between the two and both are administered under the Organic Act of 1916: “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

National Monuments themselves owe their creation to the passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act, signed by Teddy Roosevelt. Since its passage, the act has been used more than 150 times by American presidents of both the red and blue teams to:

“ … declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”

Enter Trump’s Executive Order 13792 on May 1, 2017 directing Secretary of the Interior Zinke to conduct a review of all Presidential designations under the Antiquities act since January 1, 1996. To me there’s this great cynicism underlying that targeting of designations after 1996, that goes through many different issues. This idea that the work of our country was already completed, that the mission to preserve places unimpaired has already reached its apex and everything beyond 1996 is diminishing returns.

The result of Order 13792 was removing 85 percent Bears Ears and half of Grand Staircase National Monuments. The great irony of Zinke referring to himself as a Teddy Roosevelt.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a written statement.

“The decision to reduce the size of the Monument is being made with no tribal consultation,” he said. “The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the Monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision.”

The tribes were not considered but fossil fuel interests were according to Eric Lipton.

“Internal Interior Department documents we got via FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) show that Interior had specific things on its mind.”

Emails within the Department of Interior almost immediately after Trump’s inauguration started discussing the potential for fossil fuel exploration within your national monuments. Proponents for the shrinkage will argue that no president has the right to “lock up” land the size of Rhode Island with a stroke of a pen.
The sheer hypocrisy of president signing a preordained review. In a brief span public lands have gone from “Unimpaired” to Kane County Utah hiring someone to

“Assess the overall mineral and energy resources available in the newly released acreage from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument”

Part of settling on the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was the largest land swap of its time. Utah schools got a $50 million payday and the state got 145,000 acres outside the boundary for mineral rights. Which would seem to be one of the great compromises where everyone walks away a winner. I want that money back.

Utah’s public lands are a case study look into the TrumpModus operandi. Press forward at all costs with no legal authority and make sure the impacts are permanent by the time the law catches up to you.

It was underneath The Bodhi Tree where Siddartha Gautama began meditating to become the Buddha. I interpret that transformation as the value of self reflection and of the ground beneath you. It’s also an image that’s the antithesis of the GOP’s drive to divest from public lands in the West. Though I see they do have the similarity of “he was free of all obstacles and released from attachments.”

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