One of the missions of PaddlingLight.com is to grow paddlesport participation in order to increase wilderness protection. The belief is that as people start to paddle and enjoy the woods more, they’ll want to preserve it. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “”The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” Unfortunately, Canoeists Are Getting Older and Introducing Fewer New People to the Wilderness. When you have fewer people interested in the wilderness and the national parks, there’s a smaller chance the people of all political philosophies will want to protect it. In the past, we’ve had Presidents and candidates from both political parties that wanted to preserve more wilderness and protect parks. Now, support for wilderness and our parks is become lopsided with an extremist view starting to prevail in one party.
President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”
He believed that our lands belonged not just to us, but they also belonged to the generations of Americans not yet born — those who will call the U.S. home 500 years from now. He believed that we needed to protect the beautiful places in America for those yet to come. He also believed that by protecting the parks and the land that those who used them for recreation would become better citizens.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”
In a similar belief to Teddy, FDR believed that our park system enriched our lives and that there was NOTHING more American as our park system.
Both Parties Believed in Wilderness and our American Parks
The two major political parties believed in one theme, and that was that our parks and wilderness were at the core of who it was to be an American, that nothing greater could be used to define what an American was and that by using these parks, people would become better citizens.
But today, we have extremists on the right-wing side that seek to privatize and sell off our parks and wilderness areas. I’ve written about the extremist attack on American Wilderness and American parks before (see When They Want to Take Away Wilderness and Wilderness in America Under Attack (Still)). We have countless attempts at the national, state and local levels of right-wing extremists attempting or even selling off our public lands (see Michigan as an example). In another example, the current congress, led by Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, passed H.R.1459, refereed to as the “No New Public Parks” Bill. It would take away power given to the President by a Antiquities Act, signed into law by Republican President Teddy Roosevelt and used by Teddy to protect the Grand Canyon and by Presidents of BOTH parties to protect land in all 50 states. It passed the house on party lines with only 10 Republicans out of the 234 voting against it. Three Democrats voted to pass the bill.
“No New Public Parks” Bill Co-sponsors
Rep. Gosar, Paul A. [R-AZ-4]
Rep. Chaffetz, Jason [R-UT-3]
Rep. Walden, Greg [R-OR-2]
Rep. Pearce, Stevan [R-NM-2]
Rep. Lummis, Cynthia M. [R-WY-At Large]
Rep. Amodei, Mark E. [R-NV-2]
Rep. Stewart, Chris [R-UT-2]
You might think that there is a philosophical belief that these right-wing politicians have that makes them vote this way and put forwards bills to privatize American’s public lands, but it usually isn’t a philosophy as much as it is a way to line their pockets. Congressman Bishop has been pushing for expanded mining rights on public lands. The pressure from the industry is buying congress to the detriment of the American public and it’s attacking the the park system, which the greatest Presidents of both parties — so great that one is carved into a mountain at Mount Rushmore and the other created the fundamentals of our society — believed was fundamentally American.
It’s not an isolated western right-wing movement either. Former Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns (Florida), who served 24 years in congress, said, “We don’t need more national parks in this country. We need to actually sell off some of our national parks.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed selling off 3.3 million acres of the public lands. Former Rep. Richard Pombo proposed selling national parks to mining companies in 2005.
One of the famous quotes of these anti-populists is from right-wing, anti-tax proponent Grover Norquist. He said, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” With that in mind, the Republicans have worked hard to cut the parks budget. They’ve cut it by 13% since 2010. This cut has lead to the seasonal closure of parts of national parks including the Great Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon. The idea behind this is to not only make it smaller, but make these agencies unable to serve the needs of the people to generate backlash against them and so fully-underfund them that the infrastructure begins to crumble. Their proposed solution to the problems that these cuts create is “Privatize!” Let private corporations run the parks, say the extremists.
Doing so would be completely against what Teddy and FDR stood for. These lands are for the people and managed for the betterment of all American people and not just the few. That equally means the recreational hunter, fisher or paddler as much as the professional guide and the professional forester.
It’s in the Senate as well. Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) filed an amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (S. 2363) that would force the federal government to sell off a large chunks of federal land. If the government owned more that 50 percent of land in a state, they’d (actually we the people) would have to sell it off to the highest bidder or transfer it to the state to do the same. This is OUR land that Cruz wants to sell off.
Lately, the media has made a darling out of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who will likely run for the Republican nomination for President in 2016. He supports selling off public land to the highest bidder, and not only that, he supports states seizing federal lands and doing what they wish with them. He’s joined by a significant proportion of the Republican Party. This is the list:
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
These are federal, state and local politicians and if any appear on your ballots, understand that they want to take away YOUR land and sell it to a private company. YOUR LAND.
The Sad Thing
I’ve listed just a few of the attempts to privatize or attack our public lands and our parks. If I listed them all, I’d have to extend this article by 1000s of words. There is a real movement in America right now to eliminate our public lands.
That movement is showing its head at the national level, but it’s also at the local level. As an example, where I live, we’ve seen this. A couple of years ago, the city sold off Lake Superior wetland to private bidders that was suppose to become a public trail system and nature center. Now, two mansions are going in right on Lake Superior and destroying the best view in the county and the buildings destroyed some of the limited Lake Superior wetlands that we have left in Minnesota. Before they went in, the houses along the shore were mainly hidden behind trees and not visible from the most used location to watch the sunset.
I bet you can find examples where you live of this exact thing happening.
What You Can Do
Vote against candidates who would sell off, defund, privatize or eliminate our federal, state and local lands, wilderness areas and national parks. It’s as simple as that. Once these candidates start losing, they’ll be replaced by candidates who value public lands, parks and wilderness areas.
As Republican President Teddy Roosevelt said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”