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To Preserve Public Lands, There is Only One Choice in This Election

canoe in blue hour under the full moon

One of the missions of PaddlingLight is to promote wilderness protection. Why? There are lots of reasons why wilderness and wild places and public lands are good for us, including mentally and economically, but, perhaps, more importantly because wilderness travel by canoe and kayak is the apex of this sport. It’s what we do. We go paddling, and much of the time, we go paddling in areas that are accessed via public lands. While all the destinations that we paddle aren’t in wilderness areas or areas with large expanses of public lands, the celebrated areas — those areas that we dream of paddling — such as the Everglades, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Inside Passage or the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, are either in or surrounded by large expanses of public land. Even the ability to just dream about escaping into the wilds makes our sport better.

Big Agnes tent in the BWCA
This campsite is found in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

As the primary author and publisher, I’ve written about wilderness protection several times before. But, this year is different. It’s different, because the results of the U.S. Presidential and other national races could result in dire consequences for wilderness, our public lands and wilderness protection. I don’t write this editorial to scare you into voting one way or another, but I write it to inform you that your vote will have consequences for wilderness protection more so this year than any other year in our lifetimes. In that way, this year is different.

In the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth and into the twenty first century, we’ve struggled with what to do with our public lands. But even though we’ve struggled, the majority of public opinion and the opinion of our national leaders aligned. The public supported public land and Republican and Democratic Presidents protected large tracts of public lands and the federal government managed those lands for the public good, and most members of Congress supported keeping federal lands federal.

That has changed.

The Department of Interior names Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Thomas Jefferson as the greatest conservation presidents. One could argue that the way that we experience public land is directly a result of Republicans Lincoln, Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, but at some point the Republican Party dropped the role of conservationists and it was picked up by the Democratic Party. Even in the 20th Century Republicans still protected public lands; Reagan set aside over 12.5 million acres and G.H.W.Bush set aside 17.8 million acres.

Something changed under G.W. Bush. He protected only 3.8 million acres and now the Republican Party has gotten behind the core message of the Bundy-terrorist armed takeover of public lands movement. That message is federal public lands must be turned over to the states. And as history has shown those public lands will likely be turned over to private hands. For example, 99% of federal land that Utah received at statehood has been sold into the private market. Another example is the Minnesota state land that was prime real estate and part of which was slated to house a bike trail was sold off. Another example in my hometown happened when conservatives took control of the mayorship and council, the city sold off an area that was to be trails and a future nature center. Now several McMansions occupy the space. In Michigan, Republican-appointed emergency managers took over the local governments sold off public property to private real estate investors. This has happened and is happening in every state where Republicans currently have control.

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The Republican position on public lands no longer reflects the majority view on public lands. In a 2016 opinion poll on the issue of Our American Public Lands found 58% of American oppose turning public land over to the states. This holds true in every western state and in western 71% say these lands should belong to everyone in our country and not just their state.

The fundamental core principles that guide a political party are found in the planks of that party’s platform. Here’s a plank for the 2016 Republican Party Platform that states the party’s desire to give federal land to the state.

Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.

Devil's Tower National Monument under the Milky Way
Devil’s Tower was the first national monument.

The Republican Party Platform also calls for the repeal of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which is the tool used by 16 presidents to designate national monuments. The first use of the Antiquities Act was by Republican President Roosevelt. He used it to preserve Devils Tower National Monument.

It’s one thing to have a party plank that nobody pays attention to and in some cases the planks get written by the extremists in the party and ignored by those in the legislature, but that is not the case with these planks. In Congress, we have voting records that show whether or not the party as a whole supports this idea. The House committee on Natural Resources voted  along partisan lines to adopt HR 3650. This is one of the bills that would give national forest land back to the states. In the Senate, SA 838, a budgetary amendment that if passed into law would start the transfer of federal land to the states and then into private hands, was passed along completely partisan lines with only Republicans voting for it. The House Republicans also voted for a bill and passed it out of the House that would take away the President’s power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate national monuments.

So far, these attempts have failed to become law. But based on voting records and public statements, if there is a Trump presidency (see below) and the Republicans remain in control of the Senate (which seems likely) and the House (which is all but guaranteed), there is no doubt that a version of these bills will be passed in the next four years and some of your’s and my public lands will be transferred to the states and eventually sold into private hands.

As far as the Presidential candidates, Trumps view on public lands is muddied. While I find him personally reprehensible, I’ll give him credit for an interview he gave to Field & Stream about hunting. In that interview, he said that he opposes turning that land over to the states. He was specifically answering a question about hunting land (not all federal land can be hunted on), so you have to be extremely generous to think that he wants to protect all federal land and generous to believe that he wasn’t pandering (based on his prior statements about hunting). But, let’s assume that it’s true for generosity.

canoe in a national forest
This river is within Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota.

In other public statements he has said that he wants to make it easier to develop our public lands, which means oil, coal, mineral and lumber development (PaddlingLight is not opposed to these uses if they are done right), by easing restrictions and regulations. He has also said that the states and local area should have much more control of federal land than they do right now and that this control should make it easier to access minerals and other resources. The review of those projects would be taken from the federal government under his view and given to the states. So, only the states would decide what would be done on our (your’s and mine) national lands. Additionally, his chief policy advisor has said that Trump supports the transfer of federal lands to state and local governments to allow development near expanding cities.

As far as easing regulations, we have those regulations for a reason and those regulations help protect our public lands. For one example of energy development runamoke from lack of regulations look to the oil patch in North Dakota. Because they don’t have regulations on flaring, the intentional burning of natural gas as it comes out of an oil well, they burn off a staggering amount of energy every year. They burn over 375 million cubic feet per day (source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy). The average house uses 52,372 cubic feet of natural gas per year (source: EPA). ONE DAY of flares is enough natural gas for over 7,160 homes for a year! One year of flaring in North Dakota could power over 2.6 million homes per year. (About 2% of all the homes in America). Because I like to keep things local for perspective. One day of flaring could provide Grand Marais with natural gas for over 116 years! One year of flaring in North Dakota could supply Grand Marais for over 42,000 years. This isn’t even mentioning the pollution of the groundwater. I spoke to a rancher out there who said he won’t even drink his well water anymore because it’s dangerous to drink due to pollution caused by the lack of regulation.

artist's point in Grand Marais
This area is the most popular place to hike and visit in my hometown. It is federal land. At one point, a hotel developer wanted the land to build a hotel on.

Those kinds of wastes — and not to mention pollution — happen when you don’t have regulations and when you ease regulations designed to prevent those problems. Sure regulations can make it hard to develop federal land, but we’re looking out not just for a quick return but also the multitude of generations not yet born. Regulations protect our country’s future from short-sighted developers looking for a quick buck. Regulations are designed to keep our public lands healthy and to protect those public resources not just for 10 or 20 years, but for 100s and 100s of years.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has a clear policy paper and a voting record showing support for our public lands and wild places. You can read her entire policy at her website, but these are a few important points for us as paddlers (and hunters and anglers):

  • Expand public access to public lands: Because some public lands are surrounded by private lands, an estimated 4 million acres of national forests and other public lands in the West are currently inaccessible to the public. To confront this problem, Clinton will set a goal of unlocking access to at least 2 million acres of currently inaccessible public lands by the end of her first term – halving the amount of public land that is currently off-limits – by pursuing voluntary conservation partnerships with private landowners and state governments to establish new access points, trails, and easements to open public access to public lands.

  • Fight efforts to turn public lands private: In recent years, special interest groups have been supporting efforts to dispose of or sell off America’s public lands, which would privatize national forests, national monuments, and even national parks. Clinton strongly opposes these proposals to sell off America’s natural heritage. She will fight to protect the rights of our children and grandchildren to explore the lands and waters that define us as a nation.

  • Set a goal of doubling the size of the outdoor economy within 10 years, creating millions of new jobs and up to $700 billion dollars in new annual economic activity.

Clinton clearly has a vision for our public lands that will restore them, make sure they stay public and give us more access (paddlers, hunters, anglers, backpackers, birders and outdoor sports enthusiasts). Her public statements and her online policy statements strongly support public lands. Her views about public land are not muddied like Trump’s views are.

On October 3, 1988 President Ronald Reagan sent a message to the U.S. Congress that included the following about our federal parks and federal lands:

The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.

It’s time that we stand firm in America and make sure that this movement to take our federal lands from us ends. Because at the federal level there is only one party and only one Presidential candidate with a clear policy to do so, PaddlingLight endorses straight ticket voting for the Democratic Party and endorses Hillary Clinton for President. It’s the only way to be sure.

[Note: Due to the extreme nature of this election, any inflammatory comments will be deleted without question. Don’t piss on my website with your hate. If you have something to say, use facts and keep it respectful.]


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