Well, that didn’t take long.
Just one day after returning from the November election, a congressional committee held a hearing to discuss transferring all power for oil and gas drilling on federal public lands to the states. Two days, later they began a public discussion about overturning long-protected national monuments like Grand Staircase Escalante—undermining Presidential designations through the 110-year-old Antiquities Act. Clearly, the challenge to our public lands is underway once again.
So, while there is plenty of speculation about whether the incoming administration will put forward policies and take actions that mirror what we heard during the campaign, we don’t need to speculate about whether some members of Congress are eager to push through changes and roll back regulations and programs that they opposed long before Election Day.
We don’t need to await the nomination of Energy, EPA, and Interior Department leaders to know there will be challenges to our public lands, endangered species protection, and programs designed to combat climate change. Some might also feel emboldened to take a budget cleaver to longstanding and effective federal conservation programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
When it comes to defending our public lands, we have been here before. In the 1980s, President Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James Watt, threatened to sell off our federal lands to the highest bidder and the American people said, “No!” Twenty years later, the George W. Bush administration thought they would eliminate some national monuments, but the American public and nearby communities said, “Don’t do it! These are important to us.” And last year, some in Congress proposed eliminating the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but the American people said “Renew it!”
The great American author Wallace Stegner once called our sytem of public lands “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." Clearly, the American public feels just as strongly about this system today.
How do we know? On Election Day, in a great demonstration of bi-partisan support, voters across America approved 68 funding measures to create more than $6 billion for parks and conservation—an 80 percent approval rate. The Trust for Public Land was involved in more than half of these campaigns, and we saw—even in “red” counties in states that voted overwhelmingly for President-elect Trump such as Florida, Ohio, and Colorado—big majorities also voted to tax themselves to create parks and protect the natural lands they care about.
We hope Congress and the new administration hear this message from the American people loud and clear. All of us, whether “red” or “blue” voters, should speak out and stand up to officials who think they have a mandate to get rid of the lands we jointly own, eliminate national monuments to beauty and our shared national history, or cut programs like LWCF, which provide our families with places to enjoy the outdoors. We don’t need to wait for the other shoe to drop on policy or cabinet appointments before speaking out about our commitment to these lands and programs—especially as the new administration’s policies and agenda begin to take shape.