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We’re headed for a future where only the wealthy can enjoy nature

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Bryce Canyon National Park Utah tourism

Will the next millennials — those born in a thousand years — be better off than those of today? Will we leave them a world they will be thankful for and appreciate, or will they look at history as a dark reminder of the greed and short-sightedness that left them an earth depleted, a place where nature exists only in the walled-off estates of the very wealthy?

As an archaeologist who studies the processes that have shaped the cultural and natural world, I immerse myself in the distant past. Spending decades pondering the passage of millennia has led to an awareness of my own place in time, and recognition of the fact that time hurtles by whether we are aware of it or not. We are constantly racing toward a future that will inexorably come. A hundred, two hundred, a thousand years will go racing by.

{mosads}Although it is nearly impossible for us to even imagine — think of all the laughable sci-fi books and movies that foretold nonsensical futures — the future will come, and it will be shaped by the things we do today.


Our actions today will have a profound negative effect on the people who will come after us, including those a thousand years from now.We must thwart these misguided efforts. I am concerned because the last large stretches of wild lands in this country, lands so rugged that they resisted exploitation by early waves of immigrants, and which now remain as some of the last examples of mostly natural landscapes, are threatened. And when they are lost, they will be lost forever, to the next millennials and a millennium of millennials hence.   

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has indicated that he intends to introduce legislation that will transfer or lessen protection of much of the land in the American West, land now under federal care for the benefit of the public, the American people. Lee outlined his goals in a June 29 speech to the conservative Sutherland Institute.


He plans to introduce three bills — the first will “combat the abuses” of the Antiquities Act, an act used by many presidents to set aside and protect areas of archaeological, paleontological, and historic significance. The second bill is a new Homestead Act – to allow citizens to claim and obtain ownership of federal land. The third bill will allow the transfer of federal lands to the states.

While my vision of the future is likely no more accurate than those of others, I know that the loss of these lands from public protection will subject them to damaging exploitation and likely wall them off from public visitation. And, I know that it is very unlikely that populations will decrease. As populations grow, demand for parks and wild places will only increase, and the value of undeveloped, open lands, to all citizens, not just those of Utah or the American West, will increase dramatically.

Lee’s own state, Utah, already faces immense difficulty in providing access to the incredible National Parks within its borders. Visitation pushes capacity in Zion and Arches, and demand grows each year. Reducing public open space through sales, homesteading, and transfer to the states will only exacerbate the problem.

In arguing for his bills, Lee invokes the image of European peasants being excluded from their traditional lands by wealthy landowners and royalty:

“In medieval England, kings and princes liked to hunt. So prized was ‘royal game’ like stags and boars that kings created so-called ‘royal forests’ — massive game preserves intended to protect wildlife and scenery for the exclusive entertainment of the nobility.”

And while his deeply flawed analogy likens the kings to our federal government, Lee does indeed paint an accurate picture of an outcome he clearly desires: Privately-held estates for the benefit of the wealthy, while public lands are reduced to tiny, overused, underfunded parks.

A thousand years from now people will yearn for nature, beauty, open space, and public lands. Let us not deny them these most important aspects of quality of life by falling for Lee’s misguided quest to take lands from the people of the United States and give them to his wealthy backers.

Kevin T. Jones is the former state archaeologist of Utah.

Tags Environment Mike Lee Nature public lands Utah wildlife

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