As a girl, I loved climbing the rock wall in my backyard. It led to a stream where my siblings and I would play. We celebrated when one of us found a new way up the rocks to what we called “the stream.”
One day we even built a bridge to the other side of the stream, so that our feet didn’t get wet when we wanted to explore the other side. The bridge stayed up for a few months.
Then, one day, when my family was out of town, the bridge fell. It flooded the backyards of our neighbors and our basement. Soon after it was determined that that stream would no longer be a stream. Pipes were installed, and trees were ripped up. In a matter of weeks, the stream was gone. Left behind was a barren brownfield, and a family of sad kids who had to watch their stream disappear, for the benefit of the people below.
After moving from that area, I was fortunate to often find other places like my stream. In these new locations, I would sometimes wonder what that land would be like if it too was changed for the benefit of the people. I think of the Redwoods of California being turned into a housing development, or city, built by the very trees it replaces. Yellowstone would make a great hunting lodge or an amusement park. Plus, if there weren’t as many bison, traveling from Wyoming to Idaho so would be much faster. The North Slope of Alaska would be an oil drilling project with as many platforms as needed to obtain the oil from the area, and a lake in Utah could be dredged and filled to create island homes for citizens of a state facing a potential housing crisis. The list of what could replace nature is infinite, so why don’t we decrease the amount of nature we preserve?
Sure, these lands are beautiful, but couldn’t something else on the land be a better alternative? Think of all the time and money spent just to define an area as a protected environment. There are surveys of the land, and of the people, sometimes purchasing privately owned property, to allow the government to own it. Then there is the cost of employees, creating trails, roads, amenities, waystations, designated camping sites, and much more. Is the land worth all that money? Especially when the land could be used for timber, oil production, outdoor motor recreation, housing, schools, and so much more. Our nation continues to say yes, the protection of our land is worth all the cost, and the potential loss of revenue or societal benefits.
Often this protection is done by designating the land as a National Monument, or a National Park. National Monuments are designated by the President of the United States, and their size can be increased or decreased by any subsequent President. A great example of this is Bears Ears National Monument. It was designated in 2006 by President Obama, then its size was decreased to ½ the size by President Trump and finally expanded to the original size by President Biden. The process of determining National Monuments ensures that nature can be protected quickly, but it does not offer permanent protection.
The determination of a National Park takes a lot more effort but ensures more protection of the land. Before the process can even start a proposal for the park needs to be submitted. Then a feasibility study is done, ensuring that a national park would be able to exist in the proposed area. Next congress must support the creation of the park through a bill introduced in the congressional session. After it is approved by Congress, the President must sign off it. Finally, the National Park Service takes over management of the land. This process can take years and makes it extremely difficult to create a national park. However, it does protect the park throughout a longer period than a National Monument Designation.
I am grateful for the land that both the National Monuments and National Parks protect. However, I believe there is a need to create a new designation of federally protected lands. This new designation should protect the Public Land from the whims of a president but take less time than designating a national park does.
I firmly believe that Public Land should be available for everyone to enjoy. This sentiment goes back to the founders of the country. Who gave ownership of land to the people, not to a ruling body, as it had been in England. The lands are called Public Lands. They still need to be managed so the Public Lands of the United States are “held in trust” for the benefit of the citizens. This just means that the government creates multiple agencies to manage the land in different ways and leaves some just for public use with no regulation. It doesn’t always work perfectly, and there are infuriating instances where Public Lands are inaccessible to the public.