Our leaders must make conservation a priority
On Dec. 4, President Trump announced he would drastically reduce two of America’s treasured National Monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bears Ears contains over 100,000 historical archaeological sites. This land is considered sacred to five tribes that formed a coalition to protect it. Navajo peoples believe the buttes of Bear’s Ears to be a shrine which protects them. Can one imagine an 85 percent “reduction” of their Methodist church or Catholic Basilica?
Moreover, both monuments are home to some of our most iconic western species, such as bighorn sheep and to federally listed threatened fish. Ecologists agree that biodiversity is essential to the continued longevity of this planet. The president said the move would open up these unique public areas to energy development: Uranium mining in Bear’s Ears, while coal mining prompts the almost 50 percent reduction of Grand Escalante, an area so geologically rich that 25 dinosaur species have been discovered there and there alone.
When America already has an abundant supply of oil and natural gas, and, as West Virginians know, the coal industry is subsequently dying, racing after one resource at the expense of others is foolish and short-sighted.
The Fayette Tribune reported in 2016 that tourism to public lands in southern West Virginia alone accounted for over $64 million dollars in economic benefits. The National Parks Service estimates over $18 billion were spent near National Parks in 2016.
Nearly every modern president has used the Antiquities Act to legally set aside lands for public use. The president’s authority to rescind another president’s monument designations is being legally questioned. Lawsuits are being filed.
I’m worried that public lands in West Virginia will face similar threats. And I’m worried our Senators will listen to energy companies rather than West Virginians.
Our public lands are at the heart of what it means to be an American, our outdoor heritage at the heart of what it means to be a West Virginian, our recognition that we are not the only species that matters at the heart of what it means to be human.
We need our leaders in Washington and West Virginia to stand up for conservation of public lands.
James Andrew Clovis
St. Marys, W.Va.