Congress has done little to help national parks once it's created them. Yellowstone photo source via AP.
Tom Kenworthy, CAP’s western expert, in a Politico op-ed.
With summer approaching, it’s a good time to reflect on the value of our system of public lands — a heritage unmatched anywhere in the world and one that owes much of its strength to the 1906 enactment of the Antiquities Act.
Last week marked the 105th anniversary of this pioneering U.S. land conservation statute. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt marked the date with a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club urging the Obama administration to be more resolute in protecting public lands — which are again under attack.
A valuable place to start is to take a look back to before the bill passed. In 1897, more than a decade into a long campaign to make the Grand Canyon a national park, an Arizona newspaper, The Williams Sun, scorned the idea as a “fiendish and diabolical scheme” that would undermine the state’s economic future, which “depends exclusively upon the development of her mineral resources.”
Supporters of that national park proposal, the Sun declared, must have been “suckled by a cow and raised by an idiot.”
A century later, the “fiendish and diabolical scheme” generated $660 million a year in tourism spending in northern Arizona and supported about 12,000 jobs, according to a Northern Arizona University study. More recently, it took just a decade after the controversial 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah for visitors to spend $20.6 million a year in surrounding counties and keep 430 Utah residents employed, according to Utah State University.
These history lessons come to mind courtesy of Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.). He’s the latest in a long line of Western demagogues who’ve tried to make a career out of opposing greater protections for federal lands and whipping up anti-Washington fervor with nonsensical talk of federal land grabs.