Forty-seven years ago, in a prescient, prize-winning Detroit Free Press special section on the environment, the late Gary Blonston wrote that a day might be coming “when the only robin will be in a zoo.”
Protection of Planet Earth and its creatures has waxed and waned over the years since then but now, with a new regime in place in Washington and far-right control of many state governments, especially in the west, it is time to revisit Blonston’s warning.
In New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management has auctioned oil and gas drilling rights on land adjacent to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Despite the objections of native Americans who live there, and of environmentalists everywhere, the BLM held that a measly $3 million in dirty money was worth more than the centuries of history and culture the Chaco park protects.
That’s just the tip of a melting iceberg.
The Bannon/Trump regime is determined to undo President Obama’s designation of a new national monument, called Bears Ears after a dominant central landmark, in beautiful southern Utah. The right wingers who hold office in Utah have been seething ever since an alliance of native American tribes and environmental scientists persuaded Obama to act.
One of those ideologues, Rep. Jason Chaffetz. a longtime advocate of dismantling federal agencies, and a supporter of the Muslim ban, has introduced H.R.621 “To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.” The full text of the bill had not yet been published as of noon today in Washington, but a Utahan with a pipeline into Chaffetz’s office said parts of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be savaged by it. Sneak attack?
The House has already passed a bill that strips environmental protections for hundreds of thousands of square miles of public lands along the U.S. border, including National Parks and wildlife refuges. It lifts key protections for several other national wilderness and forest areas and blocks wildlife conservation measures for coastal areas. The bill overrides dozens of environmental laws within a 100 mile zone on Federal public and tribal lands along the Mexican and Canadian borders. Wolves, large felines and grizzly bears could be hunted to extinction, legally, as a result.
Even worse, H.R. 427, the Koch-backed REINS act, would render all environmental and wildlife protection agencies of the federal government powerless by requiring them to submit all regulations to the White House before they could become effective.
This war against things of beauty, of historical and cultural significance, of forests and streams and purple mountain majesties, was kindled by the gradual rise of right wing rule in the United States, and came ablaze with the election of the new White House regime.
I, and many of my family, wept when we heard about the Chaco oil leases. When our grand-daughter, Darcy, learned that she had been accepted for a university doctoral program in archaeology, we celebrated by treating her to a trip to Chaco, where she hiked every inch of every trail. “That is sacred land,” she posted. “Who knows what we could lose from the archaeological record when they destroy the land near the park? This is so sad. The time I spent in Chaco canyon was life changing! After spending years in school reading about the great houses , and then seeing them right before my eyes, it's an unbelievable area that should be preserved for future research and enjoyment.”
The spirit-lifting aura of protected public land as a vast cathedral pervades Chaco, especially when one first experiences it. Lois and I first went there with my late brother Bob, like us an avid photographer. As the sun moved lower in the late afternoon sky, we decided to take pictures in the magnificent light at the great kiva of Chetro Ketl. We stood in the doorway surveying the panoply of light and shadow, imagining angles of perspective. Below us, a native American woman of middle age, probably a member of one of the Puebloan tribes, sat on the rock apron transfixed. Utterly immobile, she was chanting ritual songs in a low voice, her eyes fixed on something far, far distant and invisible to us.
We froze, then backed away slowly, respecting her sacred solitude.