President Trump’s public lands agenda is extremely unpopular

President Trump’s public lands agenda is extremely unpopular
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A new poll of California voters provides more evidence that the Trump administration’s efforts to rollback protections on national monuments are not only widely unpopular, but also have communities concerned about the future of these special places.

The Hispanic Access Foundation poll, conducted by David Binder Research, found that more than three in four Californians (78 percent) oppose actions taken by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE late last year to remove protections from about 2 million acres of public lands from Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Escalante-Staircase National Monuments. Only 18 percent support his decision. Among people of color, the opposition is 84 percent versus 12 percent in support.

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The findings, especially the results from people of color, strongly support and validate what we’ve seen and heard on the ground in communities throughout the American West. It’s consistent with the results of other polls, including last month’s Colorado College Conservation in the West poll, which surveyed voters in all eight Rocky Mountain states.

 

It’s also reflective of the massive amount of support shown for national monuments during the public comment period of the Department of Interior’s national monuments review. In total, Interior received 2.5 million comments with 99 percent of them in support of maintaining or expanding the existing national monuments.

But it seems that the deep-pocketed collective of special interests — those wanting to drill, mine or sell off our public lands to the highest bidder — are the only voices that the Trump administration is listening to. 

President Trump’s rollback of protections on our nation’s public lands is unprecedented because of the vast number of protected areas being eliminated — Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeUS to approve import of black rhino killed in hunt Zinke must change direction and support conservation Energy development will likely land one bird on the Endangered Species list MORE said that at least eight more national monuments are being targeted for reductions and expanded access for mining, drilling and logging. 

It’s also disheartening because of its sheer disregard for our moral obligation to protect our outdoor and cultural heritage in order to preserve these places as a legacy for future generations. Removing public lands from America’s national monuments will inevitably lead to the destruction of Native American archaeological sites, lost access for hunting, fishing and recreation, and economic harm to local communities.

This responsibility is what motivated many to make the push for a national monument in the first place. Latinos, as well as many other diverse stakeholders, have been part of the democratic process of permanently protecting millions of acres of public lands for their communities and for future generations. The public’s participation in the process — including community roundtables, listening sessions, comment periods, events, resolutions and letters of support from local elected officials — demonstrate the widespread support for the historical, recreation, and economic benefits of national monuments. 

These monuments were established to represent and celebrate amazing natural and historic resources, including unique wildlife, Native American sacred sites, unsurpassed scenery and geologic wonders, a variety of recreation and economic opportunities, and our diverse cultural heritage. But, the Trump administration’s actions seem geared toward putting these public lands into the portfolios of corporations, not keeping them in the hands of the people.

Contrary to the common misconception, these lands are not being returned to the states. The ownership of these lands remains with the federal government, or more accurately the taxpayers. However, where a national monument secured access for recreation, hunting and in some cases even grazing, removing protections just makes it that more likely that these lands will be leased or sold off. There won’t be much access when these lands are fenced off by commercial development.

The California poll also found that nearly 90 percent of voters strongly agree that public lands are important to conserve for our children and grandchildren. Yet, this rollback of protections will jeopardize the sanctity of these locations, lighten the wallets of local communities and erase chapters of diverse cultural heritage from America’s story. And that will be a sad legacy to leave for the future.

Maite Arce is president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, a DC-based, national nonprofit that improves the lives of Hispanics in the United States and promotes civic engagement.