By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress.
It seems that conservatives and conservation rarely mix any more. It’s become surprising to see one conservative, let alone three, touting the greatness of our national parks. This week, Laura Bush, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, encouraged better protection of oceans by using examples from national parks and presidential proclamations of national monuments as success stories. Then, after criticism for heavily relying on Interior Department employees after deriding them as “faceless bureaucrats” last October, Sarah Palin posted a photographic tribute to the “Men and Women of the National Park Service and Foundations” on the SarahPAC website. To top it all off, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) told E&E News that she would use her position on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee to fight for an improved National Park Service budget:
I chose that as my number one priority because the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service is coming up and I think it’s important that we make sure our national parks are presented on their centennial to the public in a way that not only makes people proud of our national parks but also recognizes the importance of continuing to protect and utilize those national parks in the way they were intended.
But even as these conservatives express their patriotism by standing up for national parks, it is important to remember that they haven’t always been protected. The Grand Canyon, before it was a national park, was heavily mined public domain that was controlled by the railroad and timber industries, and it took nearly 20 years for it to be protected. Today, many more places that need conservation are in limbo just like the Grand Canyon was in the 1880s.
Lummis and other conservatives are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our national parks by returning to robber-baron ways. Lummis is a long-time proponent of opening up lands to increased drilling and industrial activity of all kinds, co-sponsored the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, a bill that would strip existing protections from tens of millions of acres of scenic American treasures, and also prohibit future administrations from ever protecting Wilderness Study Areas or unroaded National Forest areas. And, along with many Western GOP members, she has co-sponsored at least six other bills that would have major impacts on future parks and monuments by preventing use of tools like the Antiquities Act. If Lummis’ efforts in Congress gain headway, she will jeopardize future national parks, perhaps even in her own state.
Our public lands provide our nation with natural resources such as oil and gas, coal and timber, clean air, water, and beauty. Many places on Department of the Interior and Forest Service lands need higher protection so that they will continue to be special places for all Americans. Western representatives like Lummis should think more thoroughly about what impacts their politically motivated actions of today might have on future national parks. Without strong foresight of past leaders, national parks like the Grand Canyon would have never existed in the first place.
A prime example of our threatened land and heritage is Blair Mountain, WV, a landmark of labor history and a natural treasure that is slated to be blown up by coal company Massey Energy.