In 2014, Dave Foreman, a co-founder of Earth First! and former Sierra Club board member, wrote:
"One-third of the nation's land is yours and mine. Not the timber companies'. Not the land and cattle companies'. Not the mining companies'. Not the rich folks'. Not the land speculators'. Ours. One-third of the acreage of the United States of America is yet owned by her citizens and overseen by the federal government—740 million acres in all. These are the National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management lands ... . These lands are why the United States has a conservation legacy unmatched elsewhere in the world. Underline that last sentence. As I have learned more about international conservation, I've wondered why the whole game of protecting land seems easier in the United States (not that it's easy here, but alongside other countries we are better off). Our public lands are the answer. I know of no other country that has such a set-up with its citizens owning and having a strong say in the running of one-third of the country's land acreage."
But, as Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac and the first management plan for the Grand Canyon, observed: "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot."
If there was any doubt in your mind about which side of that divide the current presidential administration occupies, here's the scoop: It has gutted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, proposed commercial logging projects in Los Padres National Forest, and, as of Oct. 12, rescinded the rule restricting the release of methane, the most powerful greenhouse gas, on public lands.
Drilling down (so to speak) on just one of this administration's environmental attacks, Trump's Bureau of Land Management has approved new oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on more than a million acres of public land across Central California for the first time in seven years, including the Carrizo Plain National Monument for the first time since the Monument was established in 2001.
First up: The sale of seven 10-year leases to drill and frack public lands in Kern County. The pollution from those wells would threaten not only lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including the Carrizo Plain, but would reach into 11 national parks, forests, and recreation areas, including Yosemite and Sequoia, portions of the Pacific Crest Trail and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, and state and local parks, open space, and schools.
None of which means this actually has to happen, because Mr. Foreman was correct about citizens having a say.
The Center for Biological Diversity, EarthJustice, National Parks Conservation Association, The Sierra Club, Patagonia, and others sued the Trump administration in January for understating the impacts to the environment, public health, and recreation. Congressmen Salud Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta led a dozen of their colleagues in amending a spending bill to bar new oil and gas exploration on federal lands in California. And on Oct. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-82-20, committing the state of California to protecting 30 percent of California's lands and waters by 2030 to curb the loss of species and the destruction of ecosystems. California is the first state in the nation to pledge to conserve 30 percent of its land and waters by 2030, joining 38 countries in that commitment to conservation.
"This order brings our country closer to protecting the 30 percent of lands and waters that experts say is needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate disruption," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, "with a host of benefits for our air, water, wildlife and families along the way. Sierra Club is committed to ensuring this process improves access to nature for communities most harmed by the climate crisis and loss of green space."
At times like this, it is worth remembering that no other country, as Dave Foreman noted, "has the kind of federal laws the U.S. has such as the Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act, and others for the whole country and that give citizens a mighty hand in helping to shape policy."
It's also worth remembering Foreman's conclusion: "The endless tug of war between dollar-driven businesses and thrill-driven motorheads, federal resourcists, and wild-loving citizen conservationists shaped and made the public lands what they are today. As much as the Bill of Rights, our public lands define who we are as Americans."
Please join the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club for a meeting via Zoom with Rebecca August, director of advocacy for Los Padres ForestWatch, on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m., for an update on the benefits of living in a country in which citizens own and (still) have a strong say in the management of a large portion of our land acreage.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Δ
Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through email@example.com.