Marshal Your Indignation

Slowtwitchers shared their opinions upwards of 200 times on whether it’s appropriate for a budding pro triathlete to defray the costs of her hobby-career through a GoFundMe campaign. The strong feelings spawned an opinion piece in Triathlete Magazine defending the person in question.

Boy was this a big deal! It’s good to have strong feelings on a subject. No problem. Bless your opinionated hearts. Can we marshal those strong feelings toward things that will matter to us and will matter a month, and a year, and a decade from now?

Can I talk about something I feel strongly about? And that our triathlon forum has been mum on so far? It’s our president’s decision to return 2 million acres of public land to the list of places available for drilling and mining.

As a Californian I’m blessed and grateful that my state contains Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks. Making these lands public isn’t the government taking your private lands. It’s your government husbanding your land, for you, for your children and for theirs. See that map above? These are the areas held in the public trust. Lands that we all agree to hold for ourselves, for each other, for the generations that come after us.

I relocated, 15 years ago, for the sole purpose of living adjacent to a national forest. I run or ride my bike in the Angeles National Forest almost every day. Were this tract of public land removed from the prohibition of industry, do you think loggers, miners, drillers would treat this land with the same care as our National Forest Service? Are you confident you and I would remain free to run and ride here? Or that we would want to after they finished with it? Do you think we’d be able to gain permits to produce events here, as we now can and do?

While my state is home to the most spectacular (according to me) aggregation of public lands in our country, Utahns beg to differ and I take their point: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument captures my imagination like no other place does. It’s the land of Zane Grey. It’s the West at its most iconic. Two years ago when my wife and I took a trip through Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capital Reef and Canyonlands, we passed right through both these monuments. I thought to myself, “This southern half of Utah could pry me from California.”

Half of this grand place is about to be turned over to the whims of local politicians whose campaigns are funded by whom? Do you really think that turning this monument over to Utah politicians means returning it to local Utahns? History and common sense say no.

Local Utahns can appreciate their public lands now, just like I appreciate the National Forest next to me. Do you think Utahns will like it more if there is a uranium mine in the middle of it? This appears to be one chief interest of our president, his Interior secretary, and several of Utah's prominent congressmen: Uranium mining in Bears Ears and fossil fuel extraction in Grand Staircase Escalante.

Above, that’s my favorite map from the USGS Protected Areas Viewer. See all that green? Green in this map view means “public access”! Does that sound like the government taking away your lands from you? You know better, don’t you? (I'm not particular about whether this land is set aside by your city, county, state or the federal government; I'm only interested in its protection, preservation, and public access.)

Once you sell public lands off, or lease them to heavy industry, it's very hard to pry them back into the public’s hands (your hands, and my hands). Watch “The National Parks: America's Best Idea”, the great documentary by Ken Burns. See how difficult it was to create these parks. Contemplate the forces against their creation, at every step along the way, for the last century and more, and contemplate how closely this mirrors the forces that today wish to hand these public lands to the private industry that lines the pockets of politicians. This isn’t partisan (or it shouldn’t be). Republican president, hunter, outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt’s face is on Mt. Rushmore, and is the figure most closely associated with the preservation of our public lands.

When public lands, and the access to them, are gone, they’re pretty much gone (consider how little “green” there is East of the Rockies). The gravity, momentum, inertia is toward the greedy use of lands for private enterprise, and the insidious cycle is for industry to pay lawmakers, who prey on your fears and convince you that it’s only “your” land if it can be leased to miners or drillers. Search the history, and the legacy, of uranium mining in southern Utah, which you can read about from the L. A. Times to the Deseret News. Research how the price of uranium has been falling since 2007; how few jobs these new mines would generate; and the vast damage uranium mining does to the land, the air, the water. Ask yourself whether you really want to turn these two monuments over to uranium, potash and oil companies.

You and I may well disagree on immigration, tax policy, how to solve health care and that's as it should be. I have no special claim on wisdom. When it comes to our lands, how we treat them, protecting our access to them and above all their ownership by all Americans, you and I who traverse the land under human powered locomotion should be of one mind.

If you feel as I do, and are willing to work to make sure those "green" areas in the map above remain green, you can fund your pro triathlon career with a chain letter for all I care.