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Op-ed: National monuments review ended but the fight for our lands doesn’t

The Associated Press [Apr-27-2017]
The Associated Press [Apr-27-2017]
Douglas C. Pizac, AP

Since April, America’s national monuments in Utah have been under review by the Department of the Interior. In response to the DOI’s task, given by executive order, to review 27 national monuments, Utahns have written public comments, donated to organizations and spread the word. Yesterday, August 24th, marked the end of this federal review period. But the review closing does not mean our public lands are safe. Utahns cannot forget about our public lands and now become complacent.

The DOI’s recommendations will advised the government on whether to reduce, resize or rescind, or continue to protect, 11 million acres of national monuments across the nation. While Zinke hasn’t recommended to eliminate any monuments, he has proposed boundary adjustments. There is no indication that the monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, will make it through the review unscathed.

With or without a thumbs-up from the DOI, our national monuments and wider public lands remain threatened by our own statewide lawmakers. Already pressing ahead with an agenda to seize control despite what the federal government recommends, Utah’s Legislature has set aside $14 million of taxpayer money to sue the federal government for ownership of public lands.

When asked by a pollster last year if they agreed with then-candidate Donald Trump that states should not be able to take over public lands, 51 percent of Utah respondents supported his position, while only 36 percent opposed it. Despite the sentiment against states taking over public lands, the Utah Legislature wants to move 31 million acres of public lands from the American people’s hands to the State of Utah’s. Such a transfer removes democratic opportunities for citizen input, puts an estimated additional $100 million burden on Utah taxpayers annually, hinders the state’s significant outdoor recreation economy and endangers historically, culturally and scientifically significant regions.

The word "public" in "public lands" means every American owns the land. Public lands are managed by several federal agencies, but the American people remain the ultimate owners. State-owned land, however, can be taken from the people and sold to the highest bidder, restricting access and often decimating the land.

To keep our public lands open and welcome to all, we need continual local action throughout Utah. Translating advocacy efforts from the national level to the local level is simple and even more effective. There are a multitude of platforms where you can make your concerns heard, including calling your state representative, sending them a letter or reaching out to them on social media; attending upcoming events around National Public Lands Day on Sept. 30; educating yourself on upcoming bills, or joining local organizations fighting to protect our public lands.

Public lands provide accessible recreation to all, be they hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, horsemen and off-road vehicle users. Communities near protected public lands experience significant economic growth. Most important, they represent our commitment to preserve our country’s outdoor heritage for future generations.

We are the “public” in public lands, and to keep public lands in our hands, we, the people, must take action and be the stewards of our land.

Jeff Clay is a landscape and travel photographer based in Salt Lake City for over 20 years. He travels throughout the world but loves best the wide-open, untrammeled spaces of America’s Southwest and Great Basin and volunteers with the Sierra Club Utah to help preserve it.