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Fran Alexander: National treasures in peril

Americans cannot afford erosion of park lands

With our country up to its nose holes in water in the east and fires burning everything in their paths in the west, to say we are distracted right now is putting it mildly. Quietly, however, disorienting political maneuvers, many in the form of executive orders, have also been barreling down on everything environmental. From shrinking or dismantling the EPA's work force to the elimination of projects, reports, and especially regulations created for environmental protections, the ruling party in Congress is eviscerating decades of science and policy work.

The root causes of the physical devastation produced by natural phenomena can be argued until we're all extinct. But, what we humans willingly do or allow to be done to our world is easier to recognize. Amidst much of the morass left from political hatchet swinging are the ravaged protections of our national parks and monuments. Referenced by many as "America's greatest idea," our public lands are juicy plumbs dangling in front of profiteers eager to reap minerals, timber, and recreational franchises (including hotels) from public grasp for private gain. None of their activities protect or preserve our natural treasures, and they are not progress. They are destruction.

It took generations of grassroots work and political will, which often has to first be bent by public will, to establish the national parks, monuments, rivers, etc., existing in our country today. As a child who was lucky to have parents show me many of these special places, I remember the awe I felt when in the presence of Yellowstone's geysers, the mighty giants in Sequoia National Park, the Grand Canyon's eroded walls of geologic time, Yosemite's 2,425-foot cascade, and crevasses of ice gluing mountains together at Glacier National Park. I think these experiences are what made me who I am today.

All of these places are bigger than humans can ever pretend to be and contain landscapes grander than almost any others on earth. These places explain to the human psyche that humans are just part of this world, not separate masters over it. Without awe of the paradise our species is fortunate enough to be part of, we tend to only value what is human-made, maybe because that is all we know.

Political battles are value battles. When the functioning roles of water, land, air, snow, weather, wildlife, plants, etc., are not made a part of how we live, we are ignorant of what it actually takes to survive. We develop a "Who needs it?" attitude, and we substitute buildings and cookie-cutter outdoor spaces for the real things that make our own ecosystems work.

Folks without drinking water, but wading chest deep through chemical and sewage-laden flood waters last week in Houston may now have a clue of what clean water means to survival. But, without a context of where life's basics originate, even desperate disaster victims may think their water needs can be solved with enough plastic bottles of the stuff.

Placed on a value spectrum, politically and culturally, are our nation's parks and other public places. Trump's Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has been recommending sizing down some of the national monument lands. The National Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org/onearth/week 21) says Zinke, "plans to increase 'public-private partnerships' -- code for privatizing the management of our national park system." They point out that "our national parks are a public good and therefore should be publicly managed."

Conservation International's article "The worlds' national parks are not as secure as we think," discusses PADDD, which stands for "protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement [the loss of legal protection for an entire national park or other protected area]." Also, the National Parks Conservation Association lists numerous park issues at: https://www.npca.org/advocacy. For a list with pictures, enter "There are 27 national monuments threatened by Trump's order, " online to see the Huffington Post's coverage of these places.

Putting our public lands at risk is sold to voters on the premise that the individual states should say how these properties that we all own are managed, sized or sold to the highest bidders (or lowest for political cronies and mineral extractors). Some of these robber barons, like Utah's not-running-for-reelection Jason Chaffetz, have had the audacity of saying such sales would lower the national debt and that these lands "serve no purpose to taxpayers."

That fella, and his ilk, need to do a little research into the economic values inherent in jobs, tourism and public health related to our public lands. He's a darned fool.

Commentary on 09/12/2017

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