Sunday, May 07, 2017

Monuments under Review

Monuments under Review
Slugs through a tunnel
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            The stylistic description of the science of a modern “wilderness experience” fits somewhere between Hemingway prose and the common sense philosophy of the late great Slats Farrar.
            The point was drawn into focus when we saw Jud at the hamburger stand in Deming. He had a bunch of young folks in tow on their return to civilization having ventured into the wilds of the Gila Wilderness. They had apparently entered the Middle Fork for an outing that was intended to teach them all about the grand allure of being off the map. It turned out to be a public gathering. Screaming kids, foot caravans through the canyon bottom like slugs through a tunnel, and sun burned extremities were everywhere from the Heliport pool to where the trail hits the river in Big Bear. He left us with the impression that there seems to be a shortfall from the real thing when pemmican is swapped for power bars and satellite phones form a land bridge from the Trotter Place to south Florida.
            Somehow make believe just isn’t quite the same as the real thing.
            I don’t know Rebecca Benally, a Diné woman, but I’d like to meet her. Her response to the unilateral, administrative assault in the form of the newest of the national monuments near her is noteworthy. “Traditional Utah Navajo people are not magazine environmentalists but are real stewards of the land,” she began. “Utah Navajo people do not support this effort to convert our sacred lands into a federal designation that will subjugate them to micromanagement by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”
            Good for her!
            I have long come to expect a different Diné response, but Ms. Benally spoke to me. These grand land grab schemes are not in the remotest sense meant for those of us who actually have to face the daily consequences, but, rather, they long ago morphed into despotic tool for presidents to exercise unfettered land grabs for their legacy and the demands of their special interest handlers.
            Tell us how 233 presidential designations with their 840 million acres of this earth’s surface constitute the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected” as set forth in their dial-a-monument tool, the Antiquities Act of 1906. Justification cannot be argued with a straight face. A total of 1.31 million square miles of “smallest area” just cannot be couched in any measure of demonstrable objectivity.
            It is time for a federal empire reformation.
            The left is already arguing that the cost of dismantling of national monuments will come with a steep cultural and ecological cost. Try to find a similar headline on the real cost and the ravages to local customs and culture over the past half century. Locals have not been heard. Arizona congressman, Paul Gosar, suggests that a mute button has been hit on grassroots considerations, and environmental factions always have priority in planning, in conceptualizing announcements and in managing the narrative. He describes the process as “blatant executive overreach and generational theft.”
            Former BLM head, Kathleen Clarke agrees. “Families that have lived for generations in affected communities find their families torn apart due to lack of employment opportunities for the next generation. Populations are declining. In the 20 yeas since the creation of the Grand Staircase (national monument), school enrollment in Escalante has gone from 150 students to 57”, she said recently.
            Making things worse, monument boundaries have disregarded extra-federal land ownership. State trust lands within Grand Staircase equates to 176,000 acres. At the newest monument, Bear Ears, the number stands at 109,000 acres and in the southern New Mexico Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument there are some 51,500 acres of state trust land now landlocked and in jeopardy of future earnings for the state’s educational system.
            Even the two New Mexico senators who pushed the designation at all costs agree that those embedded state lands will suffer reduced earnings. Nothing is said about the land locked private lands, though. Those lands are fully ignored by these and other lawmakers in the same manner local, rural voices are muted from conversations.
            In the May 2, House Committee on Natural Resources discussing social and economic consequences of Antiquities designations, Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Ut) stated, “I hope that those listening today will remember these voices, the ones that have been excluded from this conversation and the ones that President Obama ignored.”
            A monumental review
            On Friday, the Department of Interior opened the conversation yet wider with the announcement of a formal comment period for monuments. This will include those monuments created or expanded since 1996 and greater than 100,000 acres. Secretary Zinke said, “Today’s action, initiating a formal public comment process finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it come to Antiquities Act monument designations.”
            In making the requisite determinations, the Secretary is directed to consider a number of things including whether the designations exceeded the smallest area compatible with proper care, whether the lands are appropriately classified under the two foundational criteria (historical and scientific), if the consideration of multiple use was held inviolate, if the effects of the designations reach beyond the administrative boundaries, and several other boiler plate considerations.
            Certainly, we must welcome this, but we know too much about past public comments. The mute button has been permanently handed off to unknown engineers and positive outcomes occur only on the basis of environmental and wilderness club dictates.
            What we hope this president comes to realize is wilderness (in any form) is not a spectator sport. It cannot be created and it cannot be used to displace rural America.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Slats, you ask? He and I once unplugged my grandmother’s septic system. As we sat there in the excavated hole, we finally saw our work come to fruition. “There she goes,” Slats announced. “Like slugs through a tunnel, there she goes!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Antiquities Act needs to be repealed to stop all this unilateral executive branch creation of Monuments.