Trump ignores science at our peril
Trump thinks wildland resources serve only as cash generators
My father was a government scientist. Today some would call him a subversive operative of the Deep State.
Don Trimble lived to be nearly 95 and worked for his entire career as a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Dad and his fellow researchers did fieldwork in summer in the wild country all over the West. In winter, they returned to their Department of the Interior offices in Denver to puzzle through the meaning of their notes and maps. Their work verged on exploration, barely more than fifty years after John Wesley Powell had first surveyed the same places.
I grew up believing that Dad and his fellow geologists were the adults that a boy should emulate. I grew up assuming that government was good, that civil servants did visionary work.
Every vacation, we visited national parks and monuments, where we walked trails and listened to naturalists tell stories. National park rangers were my rock stars, my guides to the coolest places around. In my twenties, I worked seasonally for the National Park Service, for the Forest Service, and for the Bureau of Land Management, and I was proud to do so.
I believe in public lands as our permanent common ground. The American people own these lands. The federal agencies manage these millions of acres for us, and their mission embraces reconnection, restoration, and protection. Agency professionals base their decisions on good science backed by the force of law. No one else can take this long view - past political expediency and the relentless pressure from those who are intent on making a quick buck.
This legacy of conservation makes President Trump's ceaseless attacks on Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments heartbreaking.
President Trump knows nothing about these places. To him, the world is entirely transactional, so wildland resources are valuable only as generators of cash. The fossil fuel corporations agree, demanding maximum access to preserved land. Trump and his lockstep supporters cheer them on.
In the parallel world of scientific fact, these retrograde policies are poisonous for everyone and for the future of a planet accelerating toward climate chaos. Such giant leaps backward embody the tragedy being wrought by the current administration in the American West.
The president eviscerated the monuments in 2017, reducing Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase by half. This month, the Bureau of Land Management released new management plans for the shredded monuments that abandon any pretense of stewardship, any respect for cultural, ecological, and paleontological resources. Given the agencies' legal obligation to protect the values that led to the monument designations, these plans surely violate federal law.
The official press release announcing these plans on the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management website is excruciating to read. The agency fully adopts the talking points of the serve-for-life caucus of elected officials in the deep-red west. If my father and his peers were alive, reading this fawning thank you to President Trump would sicken them.
The BLM's gleeful appraisal of the industry-friendly monument master plans begins with a headline about "restoring access," code for drastically increasing destructive motorized use and drilling and mining in the monuments. The next sentence fends off critics with assurances that the plans "incorporate input from over seven months of public engagement."
The BLM indeed allowed input. In recent days, all the outraged citizens who submitted comments on drafts of the plans have received certified letters informing us that the Bureau of Land Management rejected some 99.9 percent of our objections.
The original Bears Ears National Monument was based on the heartfelt and data-driven proposal from five Native nations. In response, President Obama created the first national monument honoring Indian culture and traditional knowledge. The new management plan reverses that respect for Native America in an "ongoing failure" to meaningfully consult with tribes, as the grassroots group Utah Diné Bikéyah notes.
The BLM has joined Trump's band of sycophants. Their press release repeats the rhetoric of the Utah congressional delegation that includes easily refuted misstatements. Much of the text consists of local officials gloating along with the president, with no effort to appear impartial and professional. Listen to Beaver County Commissioner Tammy Pearson, who says the downsizing of the monuments "to a manageable acreage was the most amazing, selfless act of a sitting President of the United States. Utah thanks you President Trump."
My childhood heroes - the best of the federal land managers - are lying low. They have been driven from agencies or cowed to silence by the Trump administration. The one-sided promotion of these master plans gives us all the evidence we need of just how completely the officials in charge have surrendered their integrity.
And yet the federal agencies still have the ultimate responsibility to preserve biodiversity, protect wilderness, reverse global warming pollution, conserve working landscapes, and prohibit destructive development in our last open spaces. Their organic acts passed into law and signed by presidents of both parties require such action.
I believe that the lawsuits challenging the president's actions in Utah will prevail. The monuments will be restored. These master plans will be scrapped. Sadly, we'll see the destruction to both the land and the agencies in the interim. I dearly hope we can heal both when this aberrant abandonment of responsibility to steward our land and listen to our people ends.
Stephen Trimble serves on the board of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. His latest book is "The Capitol Reef Reader."