Sundin column: Honoring and protecting our public lands
The last Saturday in September — this year Sept. 30 — is National Public Lands Day.
This is a day dedicated not only to honoring our public lands, but also reminding us of their importance in the lives of all Americans and the need to protect and preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations. It is a time to recognize the values of our national parks, forests, monuments and historical sites, BLM lands, national grasslands, wildlife refuges, marine sanctuaries, lakes rivers and reservoirs, and state, county and city parks managed by public agencies.
It started in 1994 as a very small event in honor of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which worked from 1933 to 1942 to preserve and improve America’s natural heritage. Starting from its initial observance at three sites by about 700 volunteers, it is now celebrated throughout the U.S. and its territories, and is the largest single-day volunteer event for our public lands.
Each year nearly 200,000 volunteers work to create, improve or maintain trails, eradicate invasive plants, remove trash, plant trees and native plants and promote recreational education. The need is great, as recreational use of our public lands is rapidly increasing (as we are witnessing at Hanging Lake and Maroon Lake) and Congress is steadily cutting desperately needed funding.
We tend to take our public lands for granted, but they are endangered and under attack from a variety of threats both natural and man-made. We are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of global warming, drought and insect infestation on our beloved forests. More insidious are a wide variety of human activities that pose a threat to the survival of our public lands.
Overwhelming numbers of people swarming into our public lands can degrade their quality and will displace wildlife until there is no place left for them to go, threatening their survival. Illegal use of motorized equipment — dirt bikes, ATVs and snowmobiles — has a devastating effect on wildlife, especially in winter when they are under the double stress of cold temperatures and the struggle for food, and on vegetation, creating ruts and erosion damage.
Our public lands are also being threatened politically on several fronts. Several Western states, led by Utah, are agitating for a takeover of federal lands on the ridiculous contention that they should belong to the states instead of the American people. There is also pressure from corporations and wealthy entrepreneurs to take the most valuable public lands (our national parks) away from the American people and “run them as a business”, i.e. for their profit.
The current administration is also no friend of our public lands. President Trump and Ryan Zinke, his secretary of the Interior and a longtime enemy of the Environmental Protection Agency, are no friends of the Antiquities Act, and would like to shrink or rescind existing national monuments created under it.
The Antiquities Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, gives the president authority, by presidential proclamation, to create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. The act was created in response to concerns about protecting prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts from looting, which was becoming a serious problem at the end of the 19th century. This is exactly the reason for creating the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, which President Trump and Secretary Zinke want to shrink substantially from the proposed 2,112 square miles that contain numerous ancient cliff dwellings.
What all of us can do on behalf of Public Lands Day: We can contact our senators and representative asking them to work for adoption of the entire 2,112 square miles proposed for the Bears Ears National Monument.
Sen. Michael Bennet; Sen. Cory Gardner; and Rep. Scott Tipton. We can also play an active role as a Public Lands Day volunteer by joining the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers on Saturday, Sept. 30 working to formalize two user-created trails north of the Colorow Trail in New Castle from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (dinner provided). Call RFOV at 970-927-8241 to volunteer and to receive instructions.
Hal Sundin’s As I See It column appears on the first Thursday of each month.